Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
The year was 1984.
That was the last time a Westlake varsity football team had beaten Avon Lake. It was a time when players like John Kolesar roamed the turf at Read Field and longtime head coach Vern Long was leading the Demons to Southwestern Conference championships.
Friday night at Avon Lake, it was almost as if those ghosts of Demons past had returned to support their 2012 brothers: Axcell, Paul, Massaad and Campo.
The drought was over.
Kent Axcell scored the game-winning touchdown from three yards out, and Avon Lake’s last-minute drive fell short as Westlake stunned the Shoremen, 28-21, Friday night at wet and windy Memorial Stadium.
“This is crazy. It’s been 20 or so years, and it feels amazing to beat them,” said Axcell, grining ear to ear as a hoard of media surrounded him on the field after the game.
“This is the best thing about life right now,” Axcell said, oblivious to the pouring rain and the pandamonium surrounding him. “This is crazy. I’m so glad I could do what I did. These guys are so happy right now.”
A pair of Shoremen turnovers in the second half were converted into Demon touchdowns. The first came after Danny Strodtbeck intercepted Avon Lake quarterback David Winkel and returned the ball to the Shoremen 31-yard line. Three plays later, Axcell hit Alex Massaad on a 28-yard touchdown pass to give Westlake a 21-14 lead.
Avon Lake came back to tie the score on Wyatt Ohm’s 3-yard run with 4:52 left in the third quarter. But Massaad’s recovery of an Avon Lake fumble with 7:19 left in the game gave the Demons a boost.
“That’s when we knew we had them,” Axcell said. “That’s when we knew we could push them. That’s when we knew we were unstopable.
With the ball already on the Avon Lake 35-yard line, the Demons had ample time for a game-winning drive. But a dropped pass, along with a pair of penalties, initially kept the drive from gaining much momentum.
After a screen pass to Logan Paul went for no gain, Axcell tried to run on third down and 15. The junior was stopped for a loss at the 30, but Avon Lake was flagged for a facemask call, giving the Demons a third down and 13 at the 24.
Out of the shotgun, Axcell rolled right and found wide receiver Bryan Mackenzie up the sideline for an 18-yard completion and a first down at the Shoremen six. Paul ran to the one-foot line, then was thrown down for a loss at the three.
Demons head coach mark Campo called a timeout with 1:29 left not he clock. On third and goal, Axcell took the snap and took off up the middle, following his line into the end zone for the game winner.
“That was coach Campo’s call,” Axcell said. “I was saying maybe a little sweep to the right where I could cut it upfield, but that was a perfect play call. We got the defensive linebackers to shift over with the motion, then I dove up and put everything I had into it.”
Avon Lake, however, still had time left for one final drive.
After Sean Bigley’s kickoff went into the end zone for a touchback, the Shoremen took over at their own 20 with 1:25 remaining. The first three Winkel passes went incomplete, but the one on fourth down found Jimmy Hessel over the middle on an 18-yard gainer to the 38-yard line with 1:00 to go.
Wyatt Ohm, carrying the rushing load after Collin Lucas left the game early with an injury, ran the ball not he next two plays. All of a sudden, Avon Lake was on the Westlake 48, with 47 seconds left.
With the game on the line, Westlake’s defense held. Matt Morisette was stopped cold on a counter, then Winkel’s hurried pass against an oncoming Demon rush fell short of a diving Hessel with 36 seconds remaining.
On fourth down and six, Winkel’s pass attempt was tipped away, turning the ball back to the Demons on downs. Axcell took a knee, and Westlake had won a classic SWC thriller for the ages.
“Our defensive coaching staff did a great job of game planning and watching film,” said a soaked, but happy Westlake head coach Mark Campo as he wrapped up a radio interview.
“They do a lot of different formations loading people up on the line of scrimmage, so we had to match that,” Campo explained. “Sometimes we had five-man, six-man, seven-man fronts to match what they were doing and try to take away some of that running game.
“Our defense got two huge turnovers that we scored off of, and that was huge. Like I said, our staff did a great job game planning. They ‘ve got a lot of weapons, they’re big and they’re strong. But we were able to make enough plays to win,” Campo said.
Ohm still managed a big night, carrying the ball 22 times for 113 yards and a touchdown. Winkel had one of the most exciting touchdown runs of the season late in the first quarter when he scrambled and reversed his field several times on a 22-yard scoring run that gave Avon Lake a 14-7 lead.
But Westlake had some weapons working as well. Axcell, who hit key passes to keep drives alive all night, ran the ball 14 times for 121 yards and three touchdowns. His first score came in the first quarter when his 35-yard run tied the score at 7-7.
His second came on a 9-yard run up the middle with 3:13 left in the first half. A 2-point conversion pass failed, but the Demons were hanging close at 14-13 heading into the half.
“Axcell is a gamer, and he makes plays,” Campo said. “He might not make them all the time, but you have to respect him. He keeps coming at you with his legs and with his arm.
“He’s going to beat you sooner or later, and he was able to do that tonight, along with Logan and some timely receptions,” he added.
Paul had another 100-yard game, unofficially getting 106 yards on 25 carries. He had seven carries alone on a third quarter drive that saw Westlake eat up nearly seven minues of clock to end the third quarter and begin the fourth.
Westlake also lost one of it’s key offensive threats early when senior Shawn Turk left the game with an injury in the first quarter. But in the end, the Demons still had enough to get the job done.
“There’s no doubt this is a big with for our program,” said Campo, whose team moved to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the SWC. “We just beat a team than was number one in their region in Division I. I would say that’s a pretty darn big win.
“These kids, I’m telling you, came in here and they were focused. They knew it was a big task. We had a great week of practice. This team doesn’t back down from anybody. We play. We’ll play, no matter if we’re down or ahead. We just kept at it. We endured and overcame some deficits and created some opportunities offensively and we were able to capitalize.
“Our defense got two huge turnovers that we scored off of, and that was huge. Like I said, our staff did a great job game planning. They ‘ve got a lot of weapons, they’re big and they’re strong. But we were able to make enough plays to win.
“We played physical football and kept going after it. We kept playing, kept hitting and fought on the line of scrimmage tooth and nail. We made them earn everything that they got.
“I just so proud of our guys, they deserve it,” he said.