Bears relish win over rivals

LEETONIA-The Leetonia Bears have played just two football games this season, but they are already generating a buzz.

Both games Leetonia has played saw either a heartbreaking loss, as in the 13-12 game against Lisbon in week one, or the game with more smiles, the 22-21 overtime victory over Columbiana on Friday.

Senior Bryce Turney was one of the nine seniors who was all smiles for a big reason.

“This is the first time I beat Columbiana in my career,” Turney said. “As for me being a senior, it really means a lot.”

Turney wasn’t the only senior enjoying his first victory over Columbiana.

“For all four years, in our senior year, we finally beat them,” senior Ryan Finch said. “It felt good to finally beat them.”

Trevor Sandor also took pride in his senior team with the victory.

“Just doing it in my senior year felt pretty good,” Sandor said. “It was a good day.”

Senior Chase Stark noted the victory was a major accomplishment for the team.

“It means the world,” Stark said. “I think it meant the world for the whole team actually. In our career, we hadn’t beaten Columbiana yet. It was the first time we had beaten them. It was sweet.”

The last time Leetonia defeated Columbiana was back in 2008 when the Bears knocked off the Clippers 19-6. That same year, posting an 8-2 record in the regular season, the Bears made it to the playoffs, falling to Mogadore in the first round. Turney, Finch, Sandor, and Stark were all in the seventh grade for that season.

Five years later, the electricity and excitement was felt at Leetonia High School.

Finch recalls the fake extra point and pass from holder Trent Ferry to Zack Van Giesen for the two-point conversion to give Leetonia the overtime victory on Friday.

“It was a pretty exciting feeling,” Finch said. “It was pretty exciting when Zack caught that ball, winning that by one.”

Stark also felt the energy coming from the team and the stadium at that moment.

“I’ve never been that excited in my life,” Stark said. “As soon as I saw Zack catch that ball, everything just went out the room from there. I heard the crowd cheering. The whole stadium lit up from there.”

The victory was also of enjoyment for coach Matt Altomare, whose last victory over Columbiana occurred in his second season with the Bears.

“That was their first victory over them since 2008,” Altomare said. “Our seniors never beat them, so it was big, and the fashion we beat them with the one-point victory gave them a shot in the arm for the program.”

The close victory over Columbiana, added to the one-point loss against Lisbon also brings another note of importance to the program.

Since the 2010 season, the Bears were involved in 12 games where the final score was within a touchdown. Nearly one-third of their last 32 games ended in margins of seven points or less.

“You can look at it as our kids play hard,” Altomare said. “Week in and week out, they give the kind of effort in that they can win games.”

Along with the effort to win, Altomare also expressed the concern and frustration involved on the losing end.

“The other way to look is to get over the hump,” Altomare said, “Just to turn those one-point losses into one-point wins.”

The opinions from the seniors on the team, several who served on varsity since the 2010 season, have been mixed.

Some of the seniors like Turney look to improve their effort to try to widen the leads in future efforts.

“I think we need to work a little harder,” Turney said. “We need to put forth more time, go with a better boom. Go out, try to put up more points.”

Some seniors feel that, regardless the size of the score, it’s about keeping a competitive edge for the entire game.

“It may be a close game, but we all keep fighting until the end,” Finch said. “There are some games that you just can’t win by a big margin.”

Sandor’s impression of the close games follows close to Finch.

“We don’t give up,” Sandor said. “We go at it for the full game.”

Others enjoy the excitement and motivation that comes with a close game.

“I like having a close game,” Stark said. “You don’t want to get beat by numerous touchdowns. If you win by numerous touchdowns, that’s good. That means the other team wasn’t playing up to potential. It’s kind of fun having a close game.”

Up next for the Bears is Friday’s game at Mathews.

As the seniors continue their final season, Turney feels good not only about his team’s future, but also his fellow seniors, who he considers longtime friends.

“Right now, us seniors, we’ve been together since little kids,” Turney said. “I trust them all, I have good faith in them, and we’re going to have a good year.”