Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
With time expiring in regulation and the crowd on the edge of their collective seats, Tommy Rodriguez’s 25-yard field goal attempt sailed just wide of the right upright.
Not to worry. The North Olmsted senior didn’t have to wait long for his shot at redemption.
With the game moving into overtime, the Eagles’ defense stopped visiting Westlake on four straight plays. North Olmsted took over, and Rodriguez ended the game on a 22-yard field goal to give the Eagles an 18-15 win over the previously-undefeated Demons in a Southwestern Conference thriller Friday night.
“There’s no better person who I would want kicking that field goal than Tommy Rodriguez,” beamed Eagles head coach Mike Ptacek after the game.
“He’s been a great player for us,” he said. “He’s a senior, so he’s been through that. Tommy’s always a clutch player. So what that he missed the first one? We just leaned back on him in the overtime.
“We’re very proud of everything he does for us,” he added.
Rodriguez got his second opportunity after his defensive teammates stuffed Westlake’s potent running game on four straight plays to start the overtime period.
On first down at the 20-yard line, Shawn Turk was met head on by the Eagles’ Chester Connolly for just a two-yard gain. After a Westlake timeout, Logan Paul was stopped for just one yard. Quarterback Kent Axcell was held to one yard on third down as Rayshon Robinson and Tommy Sutton made the stop.
On fourth down and six, Westlake elected to run the ball again, this time to Turk on a pitch sweep to the right. Waiting for him was Eagle linebacker Mahmoud Mustafa, who stuffed the play for a one-yard gain to end the possession.
“Our defense made some big stops in the overtime, without a doubt,” Ptacek said. “Westlake is a good football team, a 4-0 football team coming in. This is a very good win for us. We know our defense is very good, and it’s really only played one bad half a quarter this season.
“We played tough last week against Avon Lake, and we played tough the first three weeks before that. This is the way we’ve been playing football the whole year, so nothing surprised me tonight,” he said.
North Olmsted’s offense took it’s first turn in the overtime and made it count.
Quarterback Brad Novak gained five yard to the 15-yard line, then Mike Starcovic got the Eagles three yards closer on second down. Novak kept the ball again on third and two, getting the first down at the 10.
Westlake’s defense stiffened, pushing the Eagles back to the 12-yard line on a second and nine. But Novak ran another keeper, this one for five yards down to the 7-yard line, setting the stage for Rodriguez’s heroics.
Westlake head coach Mark Campo said there was no hesitation as to what his team would do on the fourth down play in overtime.
“There was no discussion,”Campo said. “We were going for it. We just felt more comfortable picking up five yards with what we had done throughout the whole game. We felt pretty good that we could get five.
“The two or three plays we ran in overtime, they hand’t stopped them the whole night. But they stopped them when they had to,” he said.
North Olmsted, now 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the SWC, again had the lead at halftime. And again, it was Starcovic who made it happen on a long play from scrimmage. His 69-yard run on a third down and one on the Eagles’ first possession of the game made it 7-0 with 4:40 left in the first quarter.
That lead held throughout the rest of the half as Westlake’s offense moved the ball, but couldn’t find the end zone.
Starcovic recovered a fumble on the Demons’ next possession, then a 12-yard loss on a fumbled snap led to a missed Westlake field goal attempt early in the second quarter. The Demons’ Logan Paul intercepted Novak at the Demon 3-yard line with 1:15 left in the half to keep the Eagles from scoring again.
In the second half, the Demons took their first possession and cashed in on an 8-yard scoring run from Paul. Sean Bigley made the conversion kick and the game was tied at 7-7 with 7:17 left in the third quarter.
North Olmsted, however, had an answer for Paul’s score.
The Eagles started their next drive at their own 32-yard line. A 14-yard run by Starcovic, an 18-yard pass play from Novak to Ivan Velazquez and a 26-yard run from Novak took the Orange and Black down to the Demon 2-yard line.
On fourth down and less than a yard, Novak ran the sneak to his right for the go-ahead touchdown. Then on the conversion, Novak - the holder on place kicks - took the snap, popped up and threw a strike to Joe Keleman, who was all alone in the far right corner of the end zone.
Westlake took over at it’s own 25 and moved the ball down to the North Olmsted 46 yard line as the third quarter came to an end. On the very frst play of the fourth, Turk took a pitch from Axcell and raced the remaining 46 yards for the touchdown.
Needing two points to tie it up, Westlake went to Paul on the pitch sweep. The Demon senior easily crossed the goal line, and the game was tied again, this time at 15-15 with 11:46 left in regulation.
On the final possession of regulation, North Olmsted took over from it’s own 28 and got moving quickly with a 37-yard pass play up the middle from Novak to Starcovic. A Westlake face mask penalty got the Eagles down to the Demon 15, and a 10-yard run by Ben Kurcsak took the Eagles down to the five.
On fourth down and four, Ptacek let the clock wind down to 4.6 before calling a timeout and sending out Rodriguez for his first field goal attempt. The kick was so close that many people in the stands felt sure it was good.
It wasn’t, but the second one in the overtime was true - straight down the middle.
“They made plays when they had to make plays,” Campo said. “They have some athletes over there. The quarterback and their running back are pretty solid players, and they’re big up front. If you lose your technique, they’re going to move you off the ball.
“Again, to their credit, they made enough plays to win this football game. But our kids are fighters, and they never gave up. We faced some adversity tonight and fought back twice. Both times when they had the lead, and when we needed a 2-point coversion and got it.
“But they figured things out in that overtime and we only got the five yards. That was huge,” he added.
Starcovic led the Eagles’ offense with 140 yards on 21 carries, while Novak chipped in with 43 yards on the ground. Paul ran the ball for 140 yards of his own for the Demons, while Turk carried the ball 19 times for 90 yards.
“In a football game, and when two good teams play each other, there’s always seven or eight plays that are going to determine the outcome of the game,” said Campo, whose team fell to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the SWC.
“I can go back and probably tell you seven or eight mistakes that we made that were key for them scoring and key to us not scoring. And those plays were the difference in this football game. Give them credit. They were physical, got after it and made plays when they had to.
“We came out on the short end. We couldn’t overcome some of the mistakes that we made tonight,” he added.