BAY VILLAGE — Things were bleak for Elyria Catholic late in Friday night’s West Shore Conference opener against Bay.
The Panthers trailed by 14 and had gained just 20 yards in the third quarter after their best player, quarterback Jeremy Holley, was lost to a lower left leg injury late in the first half.
But as is often the case, a crucial turnover — what EC coach Mike Polevacik calls a “spark” play — turned the tide. After a Bay fumble with 8:36 left, EC scored 17 unanswered points, including Jacob Moore’s 20-yard field goal with three seconds left, to complete an improbable rally and stun the Rockets 23-20.
“At half, we said that everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” Polevacik said. “They gave us all their punches, and we wanted to make them go
12 rounds. If we did, I liked our chances.”
Bay led 20-6 after a 19-yard touchdown from Jake Best to Patrick Hoke on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Panthers followed with a punt, but then forced and recovered that fumble at the Rocket 23. Conner Riddell, a wide receiver who replaced Holley behind center, hit Justin Taylor on a swing pass that Taylor turned into an 11-yard score with 7:15 to go.
Bay started its next possession at the 50 after a 43-yard kickoff return, but had an ambitious 45-yard field-goal attempt blocked. EC returned the block to its 35, and its long-dormant run game came alive. Six of Justin Taylor’s first eight carries in the second half went for negative yardage, but he gained 64 yards on three carries on a game-tying drive that ended in Riddell running in from a yard out with 3:28 left.
The Rockets (2-2, 0-1 WSC) again started at midfield after another strong kickoff return, but EC’s Will Washington picked off Best on a third-and-11 play at the 35. Taylor ran for 33 yards on the next play, and 13 and 10 on subsequent carries to move EC to Bay’s 9. Moore won it moments later on fourth down.
Overall, Taylor gained 130 yards on eight carries on the Panthers’ final two drives. All that without Holley, who had thrown for 872 yards and 10 touchdowns in EC’s 2-1 start and left in an ambulance during the third quarter. Before leaving, Holley completed 8 of 16 passes for 77 yards, and had 65 yards rushing; EC athletic director Mike Wisnor tweeted late Friday that Holley had a broken bone and would be out six to eight weeks.
“Jeremy going down was really shocking,” Taylor said, “but we knew we had to gather together and step up. Jeremy’s one of our top players, but Conner filled in and our (offensive) line did, too, in the second half.”
Riddell, who said he got a few reps at quarterback in a scrimmage against St. Vincent-St. Mary but very few since, credited the Panthers’ defense, too, for not surrendering after a tough first half in which Bay had four plays of 33 yards or more. The Rockets registered only 112 yards of offense in the second half, and EC’s two takeaways were vital.
“Our defense helped us a ton with getting stops and those turnovers,” said Riddell, who totaled 85 yards and two touchdowns after telling Holley’s mom at halftime that he’d help the Panthers win the game. “When (Holley went) down, there’s pressure on me, there’s pressure on everyone. But if it wasn’t for (Taylor) and the line, we wouldn’t have been in this game.”
HEY, NEIGHBOR … TAKE IT EASY: Polevacik said the Panthers knew the Rockets are much improved from last year. How? Because he lives in Bay Village, and had taken some ribbing from neighbors leading up to Friday night’s game.
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or email@example.com.