After rolling up 106 points in the first two games, the spotlight is clearly on Elyria’s offense. That might not sit well with the Pioneers’ defense, which has turned in a pair of spectacular performances of its own.
The Pioneers blitzed Elyria Catholic quarterback Jeremy Holley all night long, outscored the Panthers in the second half and helped Elyria roll to a 43-7 victory in the third installment of the fledgling series.
“I think our defense was a little upset about last week,” Pioneers coach Kevin Fell said of Elyria’s 63-28 victory over Amherst in the opener. “But we started (tonight’s) game on the right tempo, we got in there and got a sack.
“The defense really stopped them tonight, and thank God because they scared us to death on film.”
The Pioneers made a personnel change between the games, inserting junior Jumarr Lewis at cornerback to help shut down the Panthers’ high-octane passing attack.
Elyria was burned for 249 passing yards and three touchdowns by the Comets, and Holley threw for 367 yards and four touchdowns in the Panthers’ opening win against Huron … so the Pioneers had to be nervous heading into the crosstown showdown.
But on Friday, Holley only completed 21 of 42 passes for 195 yards and one score.
“(Lewis) stepped up and solidified the defense,” Fell said.
One of the things that didn’t change for Elyria’s defense was the outstanding play of senior defensive lineman Tracy Sprinkle — an Ohio State recruit — as he had six of the Pioneers’ nine sacks, several quarterback hurries and knockdowns and a forced fumble, which teammate Paul Males recovered.
“We knew they had some great offensive linemen — we knew that Jeremy Holley was a great player, too,” Sprinkle said. “But we all came out and played hard tonight. I knew every down that I had to get in there and keep pressure on him.”
Sprinkle lined up over center, at defensive tackle and on the ends of the line throughout the course of the game.
“It was nice to be able to go against every one of their linemen,” he said.
He broke through double teams and managed to add a seventh tackle for loss on one of Elyria Catholic’s five runs in the game.
Thanks to the sacks, Elyria held the Panthers to minus-33 total rushing yards — a stat that can’t have opponents who rely on their running attack feeling good about their future matchup with the Pioneers.
“Tracy was a big factor in the first half,” Fell said. “The only thing that could slow Tracy down was I thought he had a collapsed lung at the end of the first half. He was running all over the place.”
Another scary factor for opposing teams is that Elyria is proving it’s a second-half team, on both sides of the ball.
The Pioneers have used offensive explosions to blow open close games in the third quarter during the first two weeks, but they also have only allowed one touchdown — by Amherst in the third quarter.
Despite the stat, Fell said the games were really won in the first two quarters.
“We played our best defense in the first half,” he said. “In the second half, they were just worn out and out of stuff. It’s different when you’re trying to throw the ball around and the game’s even than when you’re down three or four touchdowns. There’s a lot of pressure on you at that point.”
Senior linebacker Shawn Masterson recovered another Elyria Catholic fumble, senior free safety Marsalis Hammons delivered a bone-jarring hit on receiver Ian Kovacs over the middle that caused an incompletion and the Pioneers sacked Holley in the end zone for a safety early in the third quarter.
“That was just the wearing down of a team,” Fell said. “But that’s part of football.”
They are hoping to make it three in a row next week at Midview, but the Middies will provide Elyria’s defense its toughest test yet.
Junior quarterback Cody Callaway is even more polished than Holley, and the Middies’ have probably the best receiver in the county in Eric Lauer.
Fell has plenty of faith in his defenders.
“About the same (as Elyria Catholic),” Fell said when asked what he expected from Midview. “(The Middies) are a good team, but they haven’t played us yet. Why they wanted to play us at all, I don’t know.
“If I were anyone else, I’d be worried about our offense. They can’t do anything about our defense. They just have to line up and hope for the best.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.