Alter defeats Norwalk, advances to D-III state championship

The best play Alter quarterback Connor Bazelak made this season was the one he shook off.

Pinned on Norwalk’s 7 and instructed to call a post route for receiver Derek Willits, Bazelak instead offered his “go-to guy” something he couldn’t refuse.

“He looked at me and said, you want a post or a streak?” Willits recalled. “I said, gimmie a streak. I knew in that moment that was one we needed.”

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Sure enough, the senior Knights who grew up together tossing make-believe home runs this time connected on a game-changing 93-yard dagger. That was the difference-maker in a 34-13 defeat of Norwalk in Friday’s Division III state semifinal at Wapakoneta’s Harmon Field.

It was the 13th consecutive win for Alter (13-1), which will play Chagrin Falls Kenston (13-1) in the D-III high school football state final at Canton’s Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium at 3 p.m. Friday. Kenston blew out Columbus Eastmoor Academy 40-7 in Friday’s other D-III state semi at New Philadelphia.

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It’ll be the fifth state title appearance for Alter, which last lost in the 2014 D-IV state final to Cleveland Benedictine, 21-14, also at Canton. Alter won consecutive D-IV state titles in 2008-09 and lost to Steubenville in the 2006 D-III title game.

Alter’s 14-0 lead had been cut to 14-6 on Norwalk’s second 28-yard field goal as the first half ended. Norwalk (10-4) hadn’t advanced this deep into the playoffs since winning a Class AA state title at Dayton’s Welcome Stadium in 1974. But the Truckers were in great position to perhaps pull even after getting a first down inside Alter’s 10 as the third quarter closed.

“We have to score there,” Norwalk first-year coach Todd Fox said. “We had our 2-point play ready.”

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But on 4th-and-1, Alter nose guard “Cookie” Armstrong, just one week removed from having a knee scoped, rocked Norwalk’s QB on a handoff and Connor Meyer pounced on the fumble.

“You got to make a play,” gushed Armstrong, who played every defensive series after missing the previous week’s defeat of Wapakoneta and not practicing prior to Norwalk. “We all stepped up.”

That was telling, because the Truckers pierced Alter’s red zone six times, but scored just once.

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Then Bazelak and Willits connected on Alter’s first play. Knights’ coach Ed Domsitz blew a fuse before that fateful snap.

“I was cussing as soon as I saw Derek line up, because he was in the wrong formation,” Domsitz said, grinning. “I just told (Bazelak) afterward, if you’re gonna change the call it better go for six. And that did.”

It also put Alter up 21-6 and the rout was on.

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Bazelak, who’ll sign with the University of Missouri next month, didn’t play again after darting 12 yards and scoring on a QB draw on Alter’s next possession, but needing help to leave the field. Alter junior Kale Steneman, who Domsitz tagged the “heir apparent,” flawlessly guided the Knights afterward.

“This is awesome,” said Bazelak, fully recovered. “It’s been 14 weeks that this team has been playing their hearts out. It’s really special.”

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Ironically, it was the most points Alter had allowed since a 45-20 Week 5 defeat of Fenwick. Alter has outscored its four playoff opponents 82-32, and put a red-zone dent on the Truckers.

“We’ve worked all year to make it to state and that was a big play to seal the deal,” said Meyer.

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