Jordan Connell and Jumarr Lewis. Or is that Jumarr Lewis and Jordan Connell? Or does it even matter?
In Connell and Lewis, Elyria High has a running back tandem that causes defensive coordinators nightmares.
“On the field, they’re almost like twins,” Elyria coach Kevin Fell said. “Their statistics are very even and the things they do are very even.”
Like scoring from anywhere on the field.
Just ask Elyria Catholic.
The Panthers had Elyria pinned deep in its own territory not once but twice early this season at K of C Field.
Late in the first half with the game tied at 20, EC’s Jeremy Holley sailed a punt that rolled dead at the 4-yard line with only 52 seconds left.
Connell ran for just 1 yard on first down. Everybody thought the Pioneers were going to just run out the clock, but on the next play, quarterback Hunter Parsh faked the handoff and threw just over the onrushing defensive line to Connell at around the 10.
And he was gone, his touchdown giving Elyria the lead for good at 27-20 with just 13 seconds left.
“We were just trying to avoid a safety,” Connell said. “I just found a seam down the middle and it was open. We ran the same play to score against Shaker.
The execution was good both times but the distance against Shaker was a lot shorter.”
Against EC, late in the third quarter, Holley did it again, pinning the Pioneers inches from their own goal line with 1:10 left. On first down, Parsh handed to Lewis.
Ninety-nine yards later, the Pioneers had sealed their victory.
“It was just a run to the left,” Lewis said. “(guard) Darius (Badford) opened the hole and once I got to the linebackers, I knew I was gone.”
Connel and Lewis have each averaged better than 5.8 yards a carry and each eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the year last week in a 14-7 win over Medina that sewed up the 10th seed and a return trip to Stow on Saturday for the first round of the playoffs and a chance at a little revenge.
“They did something that no one has been able to do for the past six or seven years and that’s to make me change my offense,” Fell said of Connell and Lewis. “I’ve always run what I wanted to run regardless of who was there. The last year and a half, we’ve progressed into a running football team. The idea is to win games and those two guys gave us the best chance to win football games by running the ball.
“In fact, we’ve spent a lot of time running a two-back set. We’ve got them both on the field at one time or another.”
Elyria has even run out of the Wildcat at times with Lewis taking the snap and either handing off to Connell or faking it and carrying the ball himself.
It can’t be much fun for defensive coordinators, trying to figure which back to key on. Both are similar in size — Lewis at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds and Connell at 5-10, 197 — and can be punishing runners at time.
“We enjoy running (the Wildcat),” said Lewis, who has been on Elyria’s varsity for four years. “I’m hoping they call one where I can throw it. I’m very excited to be in the playoffs. It’s only the second time in school history. We want to go a long way. I try to keep everybody’s intensity up. We were flat the last time we played (Stow). I think we’ll be ready to play together this time.”
And to think, Connell and Lewis almost didn’t happen.
“I almost didn’t come out for football my sophomore year,” Connell said. “Jordan was established and I didn’t think I’d get to play. He’s always been there to help me. Coach (Bryan) Thomas has been a big help to both of us too.”
“They’re special guys,” said Thomas, the Pioneers’ backfield coach and former Elyria Catholic star who led the Panthers to the state championship in 1976. “They’ve learned to share. They don’t bicker. They don’t fight. You never hear them complain if one guy’s getting the chance to score over the other. I think it speaks highly of their characteristics. They do what needs to be done.”
Elyria’s primary play is best described as a scissors-type run in which one of the backs cuts in front of the other with either one a possibility to end up with the ball.
“It’s a very simple play,” Fell said. “My gosh, that play’s been around 100 years but it’s one that’s very effective. Very seldom in high school do you ever find two guys that good that are so similar in what they do.”
If pressed, Fell might say Lewis blocks a little better and Connell catches the ball a little better, but he’ll definitely say both are great athletes.
Fell decided early on that both would also play in the secondary on defense. Lewis has totaled 73 tackles from his cornerback position and has picked off three passes. Connell, who has 23 tackles and has broken up 11 passes, also handles the punting chores, averaging around 32 yards a punt.
Both have been durable, as well. Connell did sit out the second half against Stow after twisting his ankle early in the game and Lewis missed the second half of the Amherst game due to the August heat, but both returned the next week.
Both are also looking for some redemption against Stow.
“Honestly, we couldn’t get outside on them,” Connell said of the first meeting. “They were tough inside. We’ve got to find a way to get outside on them.”
Fell said the nice thing about the playoffs is the pressure is off.
“Getting to the playoffs is fun,” Fell said. “It’s different from the regular season. We’re enjoying it.”