Story by Mike Holzheimer
Photos by David Ploenzke
“Tonight, every hit matters. Every hit counts.”
Such were the words bellowed by a Rocky River assistant football coach following the team’s pre-game warm-up drills Friday night.
It would be Fairview, though, that would take such words to heart. Senior special teams player J.P. Fitzgerald applied a very timely hit on the opening kickoff, causing Rocky River’s Patrick Connors to fumble the football to the turf.
Fitzgerald’s recovery led to a quick touchdown by the Warriors, whose initial advantage on the scoreboard with the game just a little over two minutes old, would be a lead the visitors would never lose.
On a very warm and muggy night for the 2013 high school football opener, it would be Fairview defeating its long-time and neighboring rival. The Warriors beat Rocky River, 38-26, to claim those much desired neighborhood bragging rights for the rest of the school year.
“This is always a big game for both schools,” said a very happy Fairview head coach Tom Narducci immediately after the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard clock. “There’s no better way to start the year than with a win. And, if that win happens to be against your rival, even better.”
Fairview couldn’t have started the new season any better. After Fitzgerald’s fumble recovery on the opening kickoff, it took the Warriors just five plays to record the game’s first touchdown as senior running back Drew Kostos scored on a 5-yard scamper.
The momentum didn’t stay with the visitors for very long as Rocky River answered by scoring on its first drive of the game. After an 11-yard first down run by junior quarterback Matt Lowry to the Pirate 48, Lowry hit Connors in stride across the middle on a slant pattern. That play resulted in a 52-yard TD pass to tie the game at 7-7.
The Pirates, though, couldn’t make a defensive stop and allowed Fairview to regain the lead. From their own 41-yard line, junior quarterback Colin McNamara led the Warriors down the field, scoring on a 1-yard QB keeper with 3:41 still left in the quarter.
“We needed guys to step up tonight, and that didn’t happen,” said Rocky River head coach Rick Adams, who kept his team inside the locker room for a very lengthy and poignant post-game chat.
“We gave Fairview two quick scores at the outset. Two turnovers, almost three turnovers are things you just can’t have,” he said.
That second turnover came when Connors put the ball on the turf again, with Fairview’s Amin Awad recovering at the Pirates 21-yard line. After two passes went array, the Warriors’ Elion Bendo, a freshman kicker, split the uprights on a 35-yard field goal attempt to give Narducci’s team a 17-7 lead after the first quarter.
“This was a game of big plays,” said Narducci.
Indeed. McNamara, splitting time at the quarterback position with senior Jason Kish, was chased out of the pocket by Pirate defenders, only to find Kostos open in the flat. From there, Kostos raced 70 yards into the end zone untouched to give Fairview a seemingly comfortable advantage, 24-7, with 10:42 remaining before halftime.
Rocky River’s defense came up “big” as junior linebacker Jimi Smith sacked McNamara, putting the River offense back on the field. In just two plays, the Pirates got back into things with Lowry tossing his second TD pass of the night, a 47-yard strike to sophomore wide receiver Evan Nugent.
The Lowry-to-Nugent hookup pulled Rocky River to within 10 points on the scoreboard at halftime, 24-14.
Fairview’s running game under the direction of that two-quarterback (McNamara-Kish) attack seemed to keep the Pirates off-balance during the first 24 minutes.
“We prepared for Fairview’s two quarterbacks,” said Adams. “It wasn’t that tough to defend. It’s like defending two running backs because they simply run the ball so well. We just didn’t tackle well, and we let them escape a few times for some big gains.”
Narducci likes his “two-headed monster,” if you will, on offense.
“I don’t see it as a problem rotating quarterbacks, “he said. “Both have equal talent, with each one bringing a dimension to the offensive table.”
Rocky River brought a defensive dimension to the table in the second half by way of solid coverage in the secondary. Junior defensive back Cam Heider picked off a Kish pass early in the third quarter, setting up a very impressive drive by the Pirates.
Impressive? How about a 97-yard drive capped off by a third TD pass from Lowry. This time, Connors would be the beneficiary again pulling Rocky River to within four (24-20) with 3:50 to go in the third stanza.
The fourth period began with Fairview orchestrating an impressive drive of its own. From his own 30, Kish grabbed the quarterback reigns and led his team to another score, a 14-yard touchdown run by Kostos, giving the visitors a 31-20 lead with 7:06 left to play.
Adams’ team, however, had no quit in them. Lowry tossed another TD pass, a 77-yard strike to Nugent. Lowry’s 2-point pass, though, failed, but the Pirates were well within striking distance trailing by only five (31-26) with 6:46 to go.
Another special teams mistake, though, would cost the Pirates again as the kickoff defenders could not contain Fairview’s Ryan Williams. He returned the football 40 yards, setting up the scarlet and gray once again.
With Kish at the controls for the final time, Fairview marched 40 yards in seven plays. Kish scored on a 4-yard reverse to put this one finally out of reach.
“I have to look at myself as the coach and ask if I did everything I could to prepare the team,” noted Adams, “Tonight, I didn’t do that. It’s a team, though, and we challenged our team to come out strong next week.
“The growth of a football team can usually be seen from Week One to Week Two. We’ll see how we come out,” he added.
Lowry completed eight out of 10 passes for 232 yards and four touchdowns, while McNamara and Kish led those big drives with Kostos securing the leadership role in rushing yards with 113.
Defensively, Heider had two pass interceptions, while Fairview’s Matt Mears intercepted Lowry in the end zone in the final seconds of the contest.
Rocky River will host Wellington on Sept. 6, while Fairview opens its home schedule for 2013 by entertaining Vermilion on the same night.
View David Ploenzke's game photos here: Stickware
(You can follow David Ploenzke on Twitter @Stickware)
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