Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
As members of the media entered the Avon Lake locker room Friday night, they made their way past the Shoremen players on their way to meet with head coach Dave Dlugosz.
Most of them were still in full uniform, having just come off the field after a 28-21 loss to Westlake on their Homecoming Night. And most of them were quiet, going through a full gamut of emotions following a rare Southwestern Conference defeat on their home field.
In the coaches conference room, Dlugosz offered a simple explanation before any one reporter could utter the first question.
“I give Westlake all the credit. They outplayed us today, period. They did. They outprepared us and they outplayed us.”
Throughout the many years of Avon Lake’s dominance in the SWC, Memorial Stadium had been a tough place to play for league and non-league opponents alike. And no matter where they played the game, it had proven to be a tough matchup for the Demons, who had not beaten the Shoremen since 1984.
That all changed Friday night.
Westlake had two players, quarterback Kent Axcell and running back Logan Paul, each put up over 100 yards rushing against the Avon Lake defense. And the Shoremen offense had two critical turnovers in the second half that led directly to Westlake touchdowns.
The first turnover came during the first drive of the second half. Avon Lake had seemingly dodged one bullet when Bill Highland recovered a Shoreman fumble near midfield. A holding call, however, pushed the Shoremen back to their own 37-yard line.
On the very next play, quarterback David Winkel was intercepted by Westlake’s Danny Strodtbeck. The ball was returned to the Avon Lake 31-yard line, and the Demons scored three plays later on Axcell’s 28-yard pass play to Alex Massaad.
Axcell ran for the two-point conversion, and Westlake had a 21-14 lead.
The Shoremen, behind the running of Wyatt Ohm, came right back and tied the game again on Ohm’s 3-yard run. But with 7:19 left in the game, a fumble at their own 35 yard line gave Westlake the ball back again in prime field position.
A pair of Demon penalties slowed the drive, but a facemask call on third down and 15 gave Westlake new life. On the next play, Axcell rolled out and found Bryan Mackenzie for an 18-yard gain, putting the ball at the six. Three plays later, Axcell took it up the middle for what proved to be the game winner.
On the final drive, the Shoremen came up with a big fourth down conversion when Winkel hit Jimmy Hessel on an 18-yarder over the middle with 1:00 left. But after Ohm got the Shoremen to the Westlake 48, a run for no gain and a pair of incomplete passes dashed any hopes of a Shoreman comeback.
“We had a very difficult time stopping their running game, and on offense we had turnovers,” Dlugosz said. “That’s the formula for a loss, and that’s exactly what happened.
“Westlake possessed the ball for a long period of time and kept it away from our offense. But the couple times our offense had the ball, we ended up giving them turnovers. We had some untimely penalties in there as well.
“But again, don’t take anything away from Westlake. I think they gutted us for about 229 yards rushing, right in the gut of our defense. They deserved to win. Congratulations to them,” Dlugosz said.
Avon Lake suffered a tough blow early when junior running back Collin Lucas left the game with what appeared to be an ankle injury at the 9:07 mark of the first quarter. Dlugosz, however, said that was no excuse for the loss.
“It doesn’t help, but you play this game as a team, not as an individual,” said Dlugosz, whose team fell to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the SWC. “Other guys have to step up, and that just didn’t happen.
“Depth becomes and issue, so when you take some key guys out of there and you don’t have other key guys to replace them, that’s the way it goes. We can’t let one individual determine the outcome of the game. It didn’t, because we certainly had our opportunities.
“We just did not play well. It’s hard for me to understand how we didn’t play well on our Homecoming, but it happened,” he concluded.