ELYRIA — Elyria Catholic knew it had to battle if it wanted to keep its slim playoff hopes alive.
The Panthers overcame a slew of second-quarter mistakes, most of them self-inflicted, in an attempt to keep their postseason dreams alive with a 53-28 West Shore Conference win over Rocky River.
Unfortunately, the secondary points EC needed to earn a postseason berth didn’t materialize and it was eliminated from postseason contention later Friday night.
Elyria Catholic jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead, but a long touchdown pass from Matt Lowry to Patrick Connors cut the EC lead in half early in the second quarter.
With 9:33 before halftime, the Panthers took possession at their 28-yard line. Thus started the most frustrating possession of the season for Elyria Catholic.
Justin Rankin had a 3-yard run, then a Will Washington first-down run was wiped out by a holding call. Cole Virgin caught a 17-yard pass from quarterback Jeremy Holley to give the Panthers (6-4) a first down, then Washington lost 3 on a run up the middle before another holding call pushed Elyria Catholic back again.
On second-and-16, Rocky River (4-6) jumped offsides, followed by Rankin breaking through the left side of the line for what appeared to be a 60-yard touchdown run. It was not to be as the back judge threw a penalty flag across the field, well behind the play, and called an illegal block.
Elyria Catholic then false-started and, again, was called for holding.
Panthers coach Mike Polevacik called a timeout to calm down his troops. During that timeout, Washington, a team captain, had a chat with his teammates.
“I was telling them that we couldn’t count on the refs to control our game … that we could not whine or depend on the refs,” Washington said. “I told them we had to just keep playing hard because this could be our last game so we had to leave everything on the field. That got them fired up.”
The Panthers were forced to punt and two plays later Lowry connected with Connors again — this time for 75 yards — and the score was tied at 14.
With their season hanging in the balance, the Panthers fought back. Holley led Elyria Catholic on a nine-play, 74-yard drive that he finished by finding Connor Hrobat for a 17-yard touchdown pass to give the Panthers the lead again at 21-14.
With 1:37 left in the half, Lucas Ball jumped on a Lowry fumble to give the Panthers a short field at the Rocky River 46. It took Elyria Catholic 1:17 to find the end zone again, with Holley crashing in from the 3-yard line to give the Panthers a 28-14 halftime lead.
Elyria Catholic marched 61 yards with the second-half kickoff to blow the game open, with Conner Riddell capping the drive with a 4-yard touchdown catch.
“We were able to slow down their offense enough to pull our way in front, then we were able to overcome the penalties and keep playing good football,” Polevacik said.
He also thought Washington’s timeout speach was a turning point.
“He’s a two-year captain, a heart-and-soul kind of leader, and that is the kind of thing you need a player to step up and say every once in awhile,” Polevacik said. “I can’t say enough about that young man. He does things on the field, but also is able to do things in the huddle and on the sidelines that really help this team.”
The Panthers finished with 500 yards of total offense, and took advantage of the few mistakes the Pirates made.
“We’re right there,” Rocky River coach Rick Adams said. “We had the turnovers that gave them 14 points and the long punt return. That’s 21 points and it could have been a different ballgame. There were a couple of plays. A fourth down when we should have gotten off the field and didn’t, then a fourth down we should have converted but didn’t. Those things added up.”
Holley finished with 281 passing yards and four TDs, while Rankin had 120 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.