ELYRIA – Reloading is always better than rebuilding.
Elyria Catholic started the 2011 season Friday night looking like its highly successful 2010 version in a 45-6 rout of Clearview. It was a beautiful night for football at brighter Knights of Columbus Field in front of a near-capacity crowd of 3,000-plus.
Last year the Panthers were a pass-happy 10-2 behind the arm of Danny Reaser, who set all kinds of records. The new-look team showed more balance as it ran up 246 yards rushing and 217 in the air.
And it launched perhaps another Al McKinney with the debut of 155-pound freshman running back Justin Taylor, who scored touchdowns on runs of 37 and 80 yards. McKinney, who led EC to state championships in 1983 and 1984, was in attendance and saw the new lighting system.
Then there was sophomore quarterback Jeremy Holley, who has stepped into the spot vacated by Reaser, who also attended the game. Holley threw for four touchdowns, connecting on 13 of 21 passes for 214 yards.
Also not to be overlooked was the running of 210-pound senior Joe Dempsey, who donned the famous No. 44 of McKinney and Bryan Thomas, another famous EC superstar who led the Panthers to their first state title in 1976. Dempsey picked up 124 yards rushing Friday night, including a
52-yard touchdown in the second quarter after Clearview cut the lead to 7-6.
Was Holley nervous trying to live up to Reaser’s accomplishments in his first start?
“No, I wasn’t feeling any pressure, although I did have the typical pregame jitters,” he said. “Danny and I are great friends and I don’t feel any stress trying to match him.”
The only downsides of Elyria Catholic’s convincing win were a rash of penalties and some fumbles in the first half. The Panthers were flagged for 84 yards but settled down in the second half, when they were penalized for only 5 yards.
New coach Mike Polevacik enjoyed his first win after replacing Ben Malbasa.
“Being 1-0 is a lot better than 0-1,” he said. “I totally respect Clearview and knew those early penalties and fumbles could cost us. But when we cut the mistakes down in the last half we showed what we can do. To win in Ohio you’ve got to have balance, and we had that tonight.
“I have a special reason to be happy with this win. I lost my mom (Janet, who died in July) and felt really good to win this one for her.”
Taylor was also happy with his performance in his first high school game.
“It was a great feeling tonight,” he said. “I was pretty nervous when I first went in, but settled down and just ran as fast as I can. On the first touchdown I was sure the last Clearview guy was going to get me, but he didn’t.”
Dempsey was proud to wear No. 44.
“I met Al this week as he came to practice to watch us,” he said. “He had 49 touchdowns his senior year. That’s quite a total.”
Elyria Catholic’s defense played well after a slow start when Clearview got some big gainers. Overall the Panthers held the Clippers to 78 yards rushing and 52 passing. Jake Lawler, Dempsey and Cole Gorskey had sacks.
“We started out well, but unfortunately things got out of control,” said Clearview coach Mike Collier. “We didn’t do the things we needed to do to win this game. We weren’t mentally tough enough. But we’ll be better next week.”
Tribute: In a pregame ceremony Lester Rivera was honored 31 years after his death in a preseason practice for Elyria Catholic. He was a running back and was awarded the No. 44 that then-coach Jim Rattay gave to his leading runner before the season.
Also Friday night the donors who paid for the new lighting system at Knights of Columbus Field were honored.