Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Before the season started, Westlake head coach Mark Campo knew he had a slew of offensive weapons at his disposal. Rocky River head coach Rick Adams felt his team’s defense was the core his Pirates would build around in 2012.
Something had to give Friday night at Rocky River Stadium.
Westlake took the opening kickoff and drove down field for a touchdown. The Demons would build a 20-0 halftime lead, then hold off the Pirates in the second half on the way to a 29-13 win that kept them undefeated on the season at 3-0.
Rocky River, which fell behind in the first half for the second straight week, dropped to 1-2 heading into it’s West Shore Conference opener with Midview next week.
“We didn’t want to be behind the eight ball going into league play,” Campo said. “The more wins you can get early on, the better off you’re going to be.
“We wanted to get these first three, and now we’re ready to go with the Southwestern Conference season starting next week,” he added.
Rocky River won the coin toss, but deferred to the second half to put it’s defense on the field first. But after Bryan Mackenzie returned the opening kickoff 17 yards to the Demon 43-yard line, Westlake was able to take advantage of the opportunity.
Westlake marched the remaining 57 yards in a nine-play drive that took just over four minutes. Logan Paul, the Demons’ 6-0, 190 running back, carried the ball on seven of those plays and capped things off with a 3-yard sweep to the left for the touchdown.
Sean Bigley made the conversion kick, and the Demons were off and running.
After River’s first drive stalled at it’s own 38, Westlake drove again. A pass interference call had the Demons on the Pirate 31, then Shawn Turk took a pitch from quarterback Kent Axcell and sped all the way down to the River 13.
A procedure penalty, however, erased that gain and put the Demons back to the 36. The drive stalled on the 32 on a botched fourth down play.
“We’re still shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties offensively,” Campo said. “It took us out of scoring position the second time we had the football inside the red zone. And then toward the end of the first half, we had 40-some yards in penalties trying to go in.”
Westlake’s final drive of the half went all the way down to the Pirate 15, but four penalties - including a personal foul and an unsportsmanlike conduct - prevented the Demons from taking a possible 27-0 halftime lead.
Before that, though, Paul and Turk made big plays to cover up some of the Demons’ warts.
After a River punt, Westlake had the ball for the third time at their own 40. Paul took the handoff up the middle, shook off a host of Pirate defenders and raced 60 yards for the touchdown with 10:08 left in the half.
Then with 5:56 left in the half, River was backed up to it’s own 1-foot line after a Billy Dreher punt rolled up the River sideline and stopped just short of the goal line.
On the very first play, Turk stepped in front of a Keelan Boettcher pass and ran it back down the Westlake sideline 21 yards for the touchdown. The kick failed, but the Demons had their 20-0 lead.
“We’ve got to learn that we can’t let the ball roll there,” Adams said. “And in hindsight, my fear there on a quarterback sneak is that we’re going to take the safety. On this play, we’re either gong to throw it out of bounds or possibly hit big.
“So obviously, you take the risk. You win with it or lose with it, and tonight we lost with it,” he said.
Still, River came out of the halftime locker room, took the second half kickoff and seemingly got right back into the game on a 20-yard touchdown run from senior tailback Mike Poe. But another Mackenzie return had the Demons in business at their own 45.
Turk started things off with a 25-yard run, then Paul took it up the gut for another 17 yards. River was called for a face mask on the play, putting Westlake at the Pirate 7-yard line.
On first and goal, Danny Strodtbeck took it down to the one, then Turk finished off the drive with a one-yard dive. The kick hit the upright, but Westlake had answered and upped it’s lead to 26-7.
Rocky River, which was in hurry-up offense mode, moved the ball again on it’s next possession. The big play was a 32-yard run by Matt Lowry that got the Pirates all the way down to the Demon 11. Two plays later, Boettcher found Pat Connors all alone in the end zone with 4:34 left in the third.
River was still in the game at 26-13, but Westlake’s defense held the rest of the way and stopped the Pirates on their final three possessions. Bigley topped off a six-plus minute drive late in the game with a 26-yard field goal to close out the scoring.
“When we spread them out, we seemed to have more success,” Adams said. “It comes back on me. We’ve got to see that earlier. The same thing happened the week before. We’re making the adjustments. The kids are able to do that. We just have to come out and play four quarters.
“Our defense got off to a rough start, but we have to go back and find a way to put these guys in a better position to win. That falls back on us,” he added.
For Westlake, Paul was the man of the hour on offense. Unofficially, he carried the ball 17 times for 175 yards, 131 of those coming in the first half. He finished strong, carrying the ball five times for 35 yards on the Demons’ field goal drive.
“Logan plays hard,” Campo said. “He’s physical, and he’s out there the whole time. He’s definitely a weapon for us. With him, we have somebody to go inside to go along with the guys we have on the outside.”
Campo said he was concerned about the penalties, which totaled 85 yards on the night. He also felt his team’s mistakes were “fixable.”
“I told the kids we can’t keep doing things like that, especially once we start going up against Southwestern Conference teams,” Campo said. “I don’t think our kids realize yet how good they can be once we fix a few things.
“But that’s a good thing, because these things are fixable. Our guys are going to go back to work next week, we’re going to coach our fannies off and we’ll get ready on both sides of the ball. We did some things on the defensive side in the second half that weren’t characteristic of how we like to play.
“I think part of that had to do with their pace. They were going fast paced, and I thought we were gased a little bit. But again, it’s one thing if they’re correctable mistakes, it’s another if we just can’t match up.
“Right now, I don’t think we’re in that situation, and we won’t be in that situation,” he added.