Westlake moves into first place, playoff contention
Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by Larry Bennet
Even after defeating Avon Lake last Friday night, head coach Mark Campo knew there were still plenty of challenges ahead for his Westlake Demons.
One of those challenges came Friday night as Midpark, with it’s rifle-armed quarterback Doug Verbofsky, paid a visit to Lou Duchez Field. The 6-1 Demons needed a win, not only to stay in the Southwestern Conference race, but to make headway in the Division II state computer ratings.
Westlake, thanks in part to a career rushing night by Logan Paul, moved to 7-1 on the season and took another step toward the playoffs with a thrilling 39-28 win over the Meteors.
The Demons also moved into a three-way tie for first place in the SWC with two games remaining in the regular season. Avon Lake traveled out to first place Brecksville Friday night and came home with a 31-21 win over the Bees. All three teams are 4-1 in the league, with Brecksville slated to visit Westlake in the final week of the season.
The win also bolstered Westlake’s playoff hopes in Division II, Region 6. The Demons entered Friday night’s game in the ninth spot in that region, one spot out of the tournament. The win over the Division I Meteors was a big help, as was No. 8 Norwalk’s 48-21 loss to Bellevue.
“Ever since the loss to North Olmsted, we’ve been on the outside looking in,” Campo said. “We’ve talked to the kids about taking care pf what we can. We got a little help, but after this win tonight we should be in good shape.
“We’ll get some points from Midpark and Avon Lake the rest of the way. If we do what we need to do, things will take care of themselves,” he added.
One of the things the Demons needed to do Friday night was to keep the ball away from Verbofsky and the potent Midpark offense. Paul helped make that happen, carrying the ball 44 times for a career-high 265 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those scores came in the fourth quarter and helped hold off the high-powered Meteors.
With Westlake up 27-21 after three quarters, Paul went over the 200-yard mark with a 3-yard touchdown run early in the fourth. The 2-point conversion attempt failed, but the Demons had a little breathing room at 33-21 with 11:20 remaining.
Verbofsky, who already had three touchdown passes, struck back quickly. He added a fourth when he hit Branson Repasy on a 21-yard scoring strike that made it 33-28 with 10:32 left.
Westlake responded and went on a drive that helped seal the win, with Paul going in from seven yards out with 4:03 remaining. The conversion kick was blocked, but the Demons had a 39-28 lead and a two-score cushion.
Verbofsky went to work again, but Westlake senior Shawn Turk picked him off with 3:24 left to close out the win. It was Turk’s fifth interception of the season.
But the stars of the game were definitely Paul...and his offensive line.
“Tonight, Logan would get four or five yards, then break one for 10 to 12,” Campo said of his senior running back. “He’s such a workhorse for us. He’s a load. He’s a very physical kid, a north-south runner with some speed.
“Logan was awesome tonight. Our blocking up front with our offensive line and Danny Strodtbeck gave him plenty of room to run,” he added.
There were plenty of big plays leading up to the exciting fourth quarter finale.
Down 7-0 after one quarter, junior quarterback Kent Axcell scored the Demons’ first touchdown on a 3-yard run with 9:11 left in the first half. Paul then put Westlake ahead with a 20-yard touchdown run, and Bigley made the kick for a 14-7 Demon advantage.
Midpark scored again, but missed the extra point to allow Westlake to keep the lead at 14-13. Axcell scored again late in the quarter on a 1-yard run, then picked off Verbofsky right before the half to keep it 20-13, Demons.
Westlake opened the second half with a drive down to the red zone, only to fumble the ball away into the end zone. But the Demon defense responded, as Paul sacked Verbofsky and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Adam Sandor.
Axcell made the Meteors pay, hitting Alex Massaad on a 7-yard slant pass for a touchdown. Bigley’s kick made it 27-13, but a 50-yard Verbofsky touchdown pass made things close again, 27-21, heading into the fourth quarter.
Campo praised his team’s preparation during the week as the Demons showed no letdown after the big win at Avon Lake.
“Our kids did a great job preparing for tonight’s game,” Campo said. “They enjoyed the Avon Lake win over the weekend, but they came back to work Monday knowing what was at stake.
“We told them if the season ended today, you wouldn’t be the SWC champs, and you wouldn’t make the playoffs. Sure, everybody would be giving you a pat on the back for beating Avon Lake, but is that all you want?”
Campo also said playing the final three games of the season at home, with so much on the line, was a big plus.
“Going into this week, we had only played two games at home,” Campo said. “Our kids have done a great job considering the schedule, because it’s tough to win on the road in this league. But starting with tonight’s game, we’re home for the last three games, and that’s definitely beneficial to us.”
The Demons will host Berea next Friday night. The Braves were crushed by North Olmsted, 43-16, and fell to 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the SWC.