Throughout the preseason, Westlake head coach Mark Campo talked about the potential strengths of his 2012 football Team.
He talked about the weapons the Demons had on offense. He felt the program was starting to develop depth, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. He looked forward to seeing what his up-and-coming underclassmen could contribute.
But he wanted to see one thing seemingly more than anything else: He wanted to see his Demons play a physical brand of football.
On Friday, Campo and a large crowd at Lou Duchez Field got to see the home team do just that. The Demons played tough in the tenches, and the end result was a 26-7 win over North Ridgeville on Opening Night.
“The thing that I was most pleased with is that we played physical football,” said Campo, whose defense allowed just 167 total yards defensively and just 50 yards in the second half.
“That was the goal when I came here,”Campo said. “In the past, Ridgeville has been more physical than us. I thought we came out and were physical. Our defense was outstanding giving up just the one big play, and we put good pressure on their quarterback.
“We tackled well. On offense we staggered a bit in the second and third quarter, but then woke up in the fourth after the defense got that stop. We got things together and started running the football,” he added.
Up 14-7 at the half, Westlake came up with big fourth down stops on back-to-back defensive series late in the third quarter.
On fourth down and six from the Westlake 19, the Demons stopped a Ranger pass play three yards short of a first down. Then on the next series, the Demon defense stuffed a fourth and one from the Ridgeville 48, giving the offense a piece of prime real estate.
The Demons got going with a two-yard run from Danny Strodtbeck, then quarterback Kent Axcell hooked up with receiver Bryan Mackenzie on a 16-yard pass play that saw the 6-2, 195 receiver drag would-be tacklers for at least half of those yards.
On second down and five from the Ranger 29, Axcell took the snap and pitched right to Shaun Turk, who raced through a gaping hole and up the home sideline for a touchdown. The conversion kick was missed, but Westlake had some insurance, leading 20-7 with 8:26 left in the game.
The defense forced a three and out deep in Ranger territory, and Westlake had prime field position again at the Ranger 37 yard line. On the fourth play of the drive, Turk took off on a 30-yard run to get the ball all the way down to the 2 yard line.
Two plays later, Strodtbeck bulled over from one yard out with 4:49 left in the game. North Ridgeville, again backed up deep, had another three-and-out series and never touched the ball again.
The offensive player of the game, however, was Turk.
The 6-0, 170 senior halfback ran the ball 14 times for 117 yards and a touchdown. In the first half, he had a pair of touchdown passes from Axcell to give the Demons the lead. One was an electrifying 72-yarder where Axcell scrambled away from trouble and hit Turk behind the Ranger defense to cap off the first drive of the season.
The second came with 5:45 left in the half when Axcell rolled right and hit his senior teammate on a 15-yard scoring play.
“Shaun was outstanding tonight,” Campo said. “He’s a playmaker, and he knows how to hit the creases. He’s not the speediest guy, he’s not the shiftiest guy...but he’s a football player.
“He gets the ball, and he’s going north and south on you. He had a great game both catching the football and running it tonight,” he said.
“Our line did a nice job tonight,” Turk said. “If you look at that first touchdown, Kent was scrambling all over the place and the linemen just stayed with their blocks. Their effort allowed me to get open down field.
“Tonight shows that this is a new year,” Turk said. “Every year is different. We’ve been looking forward to this game since we lost to them last year. Being out there with everybody working hard, there’s nothing like it.”
Axcell was efficient in his varsity debut as the Demons signal caller. The junior completed six of nine passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. He had one interception, that coming on the Demons’ second drive of the game.
North Ridgeville’sonly score of the game came late in the first quarter. Senior Paul Sonego, who had a 65-yard touchdown run last year in the Rangers’ 34-9 win, took a handoff on second and four, broke free from a host of Demons and raced 66 yards to paydirt.
The conversion kick gave the Rangers their only lead of the night at 7-6 as the final 1:30 of the quarter ticked away. Other than that, there weren’t many positives to talk about on the part of Rangers head coach Jeff Riesen.
“Its hard, because right now so many things are flashing through my mind,” Riesen said after a spirited talk with his team.
“There are so many little things to go over,” he said. “Early on for example, we had their quarterback pinned in. To his credit, he’s a good athlete and he rolls back, then we don’t stay in coverage. We give him a cheapy.
“That’s what that was, a cheap touchdown where we should of contained him and sacked him over here,” Riesen said of the 72-yarder. “The two big plays were on big passes where we had blown coverages. But it’s a team game. I say that about the defense, but you look at the score and we only had one touchdown.
“We have two starters back on offense. That’s not an excuse, that’s reality. So what we have to do is be able to come together as a team on the offensive side of the ball and develop some kind of balance and consistency. Tonight, we didn’t have it,” he added.
Sonego led the Rangers’ offense with 90 yards on eight carries. While Riesen was less than pleased with his team’s performance, he did have some praise for his opponent.
“You have to credit Westlake too,” he said. “As much as I say about our team, they played well tonight.”
Back in the Westlake locker room, Campo felt Friday night’s win was a good stepping stone toward his team getting the program back to a winning level.
“We talked in pregame about respect,” Campo said. “We don’t get any respect, but rightfully so because we haven’t won in so long. We’ve had one winning season in the last...I don’t know...11 or 12 years.
“I told the kids the only way you’ll get that respect is by playing physical football and stringing some wins together. So that’s our theme as we go through this season one game at a time. These kids want to be different. They’re excited, and they’re willing to put in the work for it.
“I think we took the first step tonight toward how we want to play,” he added.