Team 133 Season Recap


Gabe Ewen, Staff Writer

The University School Preppers varsity football team entered their week three matchup at Bay Village in a familiar position. Just a year earlier, the Rockets had traveled to Scovil Field and dealt the Preppers a 21-13 loss, extending their winning streak against US to three games. And just a year before that, the Preppers had lined up for kickoff against Bay with a 1-1 record already in their back pocket. So did doubt ever begin to creep into the minds of the US players when they made the 36-mile trek from the Hunting Valley campus to Bay Village High School after having traded a pair of decisive scores against Columbus Academy (away, 34-13 win) and South Range (home, 42-14 loss) to start the season, just as they had the year before? Did their minds ever wander to the one-win seasons they had posted in each of the last two campaigns? “If it did, I didn’t see it,” head coach Ben Malbasa told the US News during an interview Thursday.


And that unwavering commitment to pushing aside the past showed on the field, too, as the Preppers came out of the gates fast. On the very first drive of the game, senior safety Johan Guy came downfield and broke up a 3rd-and-9 pass attempt to the Bay tight end. Duke Brennan returned the ensuing punt to the Rockets’ 42-yard-line, and seven plays later, 15- and 17-yard screens to seniors Brian Kellon and Samonte Martin set up a 7-yard Jackson Boland touchdown pass: 7-0 Preppers. Later in the first quarter, a 39-yard Ryan Pattison pick six made it a two score game, and Pattison’s second quarter heroics (a 20-yard catch and run off a 4th-and-1 shovel pass that set up his own 14-yard rushing TD) gave the Preppers a 21-7 lead at half. In the second half, the defense took over, with Guy breaking up a 4th-and-7 pass attempt in the Bay red zone—shutting out the Rockets offense for the remainder of the game. The Preppers tacked on a final score in the fourth quarter, with Boland elevating over his offensive line at the goal line to loft a jump pass into the hands of junior Lex Kekic, sealing a 28-7 win. Soon, Snapchat and Instagram feeds were filled with images and videos of players, coaches, and students celebrating—of Boland’s leaping touchdown connection with Kekic. It was the first time US Football had won more than a single game in a season in two years.


But the winning didn’t stop there. All season long, US has managed to flip scores from the year before in their favor. It started at Bay and continued when the Preppers bested the school down the street 28-20 on Homecoming day, their first win against the Lancers since 2019—before the COVID-19 pandemic first struck in the United States. But have the Preppers been welcoming these contests as opportunities to exact revenge on the teams that had beaten them (by a combined score of 161-80, including last year’s South Range and Mogadore games) just the year before? Not exactly. “Does it cross our minds as a team? Certainly,” Malbasa said. “[But] things are so year to year. There was an element when we played Bedford. We thought that was our worst performance the year before. Maybe the low point of our season. But ultimately, every year’s about this team. Team 133 is its own entity.” And Team 133 certainly did a fine job making up for last year’s Bedford loss, transforming last season’s 32-0 defeat into a 34-6 win this year.


Wins like the Bedford game, or the Gilmour victory, give the impression that this year’s team has been rolling in the good times all season long. But, really, 2022-23 has been no different than 2021-22 in some regards. First, starting quarterback Jackson Boland endured a shoulder

injury that sidelined him for a game, forcing freshman Carson Panteck to take snaps at the varsity level and junior Joey Zigman to rejoin the team midway through the season. Then, when it wasn’t the quarterback position, it was a bout of illness that swept through the team and led to the cancellation of the Preppers’ week seven matchup at Mogadore. “It just stinks,” Malbasa said regarding the Mogadore cancellation. “You know, we all wanted to play that game. That was one we wanted to flip. And the reality is they were a very good team a year ago, and we played them tough. And we wanted the opportunity to see if we could play—again, undefeated team, at their place, and have that opportunity. So it was frustrating for our team. At the same time, I thought our guys had a really good attitude about it. And they understood—25-percent of our roster was out. There was only so much you could do. I thought our guys had a great approach, and then finished strong out of it, too.” And those good times have stuck around, too, from the jam-packed student section wearing ‘Civil but Rowdy’ shirts on Homecoming to the debut of new mascot Terry the Trout a couple of weeks ago. “I think it’s the best student atmosphere at school that I’ve seen since I’ve been back,” Malbasa said. “And the crowds are the best student crowds I remember in my lifetime. I think it’s really a testament. I think the senior class has done a really great job of setting a tone in the school building. I think there’s a lot of positive energy around US. And that’s a great thing.”


Now 8-1 and with the regular season having come to a close after last Friday’s 28-6 win over Howland, US enters postseason play as the fourth seed in their region—a potential berth in the Division III state semifinal only four games away. The Preppers are set to play the 13th-seeded Kenston Bombers (7-3) this Friday, October 28th, in Euclid for the first round of the playoffs, and if they advance will square off against either 5th-ranked Youngstown Chaney (9-1) or 12th-ranked Alliance (8-2) in the regional quarterfinal. From there on out, the Preppers will likely play as underdogs, with No. 1 Chardon (8-1), No. 2 Canfield (8-1), and No. 3 Youngstown Ursuline (8-2) serving as the biggest threats to end the Preppers’ season. But even with no members of this roster having experienced postseason play, Malbasa doesn’t seem worried. “As the season’s gone on, we’ve improved the way we practiced. We’ve improved a lot of elements in our program to tighten up the screws, and part of the responsibility if you’re a junior, or a sophomore, or a freshman is what you take away and how you start what you do going forward.”