EUCLID — Heart and character are words football coaches like to throw around when talking about their football teams.
Add Elyria Catholic’s Ben Malbasa to that list and with good reason.
The Panthers spotted a quick and dangerous Villa Angela-St. Joseph 21 unanswered points Saturday before coming from behind for a heart-pounding 42-35 North Coast League victory. EC, 2-0 in NCL play, is off to a 7-0 start for the first time since 1997. The Vikings fell to 3-4 and 1-1.
“We have great young men that don’t let up,” Malbasa said. “They play hard on every play. I feel like I dug that hole in the first half but we had players who responded and made plays. They refused to give up. They picked me up by the end of the half.”
The game opened like a nightmare for the Panthers. VASJ struck quickly and impressively by ripping off a long gain with the opening kick to put the ball in EC territory. Quarterback Andre Wells was on target with a couple of long passes that were dropped, but shifty tailback Toney Foster zigged and zagged his way to a 26-yard touchdown without so much as being touched for a 7-0 lead with 9:17 to play in the first quarter.
The Vikings were ready to add a second score moments later when Ra’Mone Billings picked off Cody Shuster’s first pass attempt. VASJ failed on that drive when Richie Baker recovered a fumble inside the 5-yard line. However, EC gave it right back on a fumble of its own with Jevon Frazier picking it up and rumbling 38 yards to make it 14-0 with 5:07 still left in the first quarter.
The Vikings added a third score early in the second quarter to go up 21-0 with 10:44 remaining in the half. It appeared EC had no answers for VASJ’s speed — particularly Foster. In just seven carries, Foster had already eclipsed the 100-yard mark.
“It was tough, it was hard times,” Schuster said. “We overcame adversity. We had chances early in the season to put people away in the first half and we did it. (Saturday Villa-Angela) couldn’t put us away and we came back for the victory.”
The Panthers chipped away at the Vikings — sustaining drives and mixing their looks offensively. Jayson Graham broke free for a 16-yard TD after Schuster had picked up 26 on a scramble to make it 21-7 at halftime.
In the second half, EC’s defense contained Foster and Wells and seemed to frustrate the Vikings. Offensively, it struck both quickly and deliberately with Schuster hitting Graham on a slant for a 73-yard score and then drove 67 yards in 12 plays with Schuster hooking up with Baker from 10 yards to tie the game at 21.
From there, the momentum completely switched. Jacob Shuster, Cody’s twin brother, scored from 4 yards and Graham added a 3-yard run to cap successive drives. Baker answered VASJ’s score with a terrific 85-yard pass and run from Cody Shuster to put EC in front 42-28 with 4:41 to play.
After giving up 141 yards on the ground to Foster in the first half, EC held him to just 40 in the second and by the time he broke free on a great individual play late in the game, it really only raised the blood pressure and heart rate of the EC faithful. No way were the Panthers going to give this one back.
The Panthers all but ate up the rest of the clock, giving time for only two incomplete pass attempts from VASJ before the final gun sounded.
“This is a special win for Elyria Catholic football,” Mabasa said. “It’s because of the pride of Elyria Catholic football that we were able to win a game like that.”
NO DÉJÀ VU ’97: Elyria Catholic is off to its best start since winning its first seven games in 1997. The Panthers lost in Week 8 to Lake Catholic that year, 41-14, and finished 8-2 but failed to make the playoffs. This year’s team finishes with Chanel and Lake Catholic at home before closing at Cleveland Central Catholic and appears to be in good shape for a playoff berth.
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
Catholic 42, VASJ 35 Elyria
VASJ 14 7 0 14 — 35
VASJ—Toney Foster 26 run (Scott Szczepinski kick)
VASJ—Jevon Frazier 38 fumble return (Szczepinski kick)
VASJ—Nick Viola 1 run (Szczepinski kick)
EC – Jason Graham 16 run (Vince Scarpelli kick)
EC – Graham 73 pass from Cody Schuster (Scarpelli kick)
EC – Richie Baker 10 pass from C. Schuster (Scarpelli kick)
EC – Jacob Schuster 4 run (kick blocked)
EC – Graham 3 run (Pat Flanigan pass from Baker)
VASJ – Dan Goodrum 1 run (Szczepinski kick)
EC – Baker 85 pass from C. Schuster (Scarpelli kick)
VASJ – Foster 75 pass from Andre Wells (Szczepinski kick)
First downs 21 10
— by rushing 13 9
— by passing 6 1
— by penalty 2 0
Yards rushing 219 241
Yards passing 337 93
Total offense 556 334
Passes att./comp. 20/11 14/3
Intercepted by 1 1
Fumbles/lost 2/2 1/1
Penalties/yards 5/35 8/60
RUSHING — (EC) Cody Schuster 23-109, Jayson Graham 18-98, Jacob Schuster 4-5, Mike Betka 1-2, Richie Baker 1-5. (VASJ) Toney Foster 20-181, Andre Wells 15-55, Dan Goodrum 2-4, Nick Viola 2-1.
PASSING — (EC) Cody Schuster 11-20-337-3-1. (VASJ) Andre Wells 3-14-93-1-1.
RECEIVING — (EC) Richie Baker 5-175, Jacob Schuster 4-48, Jayson Graham 1-73, Joe Fitch 1-21. (VASJ) Toney Foster 1-75, Dan Goodrum 1-13, Nate Cvelbar 1-5.