Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by NEOSPORTSPIX
When it was all said and done, the Lakewood Rangers had two major obstacles to overcome in their Friday night football game at Rocky River:
The first thing was a 14-0 first-quarter deficit. The other was the Pirates' newfound running attack, especially the effort of one Matt Lowry.
Rocky River's junior quarterback stunned the visitors with 188 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He also threw for another 105 yards and a score as the Pirates won this year's Battle of the Bridge in a 49-35 Homecoming shootout at Rocky River Stadium.
"We just don't have a guy defensively who can run with him," admitted Lakewood head coach Ron Lewis when asked about Lowry's performance.
"He's just quicker than our guys, plus they had a nice little scheme their with the zone read," said Lewis. "And when they handed it to their tailback, he made plays too. But Lowry, we just couldn't stop him."
"Having him out there is such a blessing for us," said Pirates head coach Rick Adams, whose team got back to the .500 mark at 3-3.
"He makes our offense really click," Adams said. "There aren't many guys who can do what Matt does. And with the receivers we have, you have to respect the pass or we're going to beat you deep. That opened up everything for us.
"We've said that we're a passing team that sets the run up with the pass, and today showed that. Their defense was trying to stop the deep pass, and that opened up a lot of running lanes for us," he added.
Junior running back Travis Smith also made his way through those running lanes 16 times for another 108 yards. That effort helped the Pirates gain just over 300 yards rushing for the game.
"Tonight showed we don't have to throw it up top the whole game like we have been," Adams said. "We can control the game on the ground. Matt and Travis did a great job, and you have to give credit to our line. They created some pretty big holes for them tonight.
"We weren't going to deviate from that until Lakewood stopped us," he said.
Lowry downed a lot of success taking the ball up the middle, getting past the line, putting the pedal to the metal and gaining big yardage. He had touchdown runs of 42, 35 and 41 yards, the 42-yarder coming with 6:31 left in the first quarter.
That score gave Rocky River its 14-0 lead and just enough cushion to hold proved to be an equally-potent Ranger offense at arm's length.
River opened the scoring with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Lowry to Evan Nugent to cap off the first drive of the game. But after Lowry's 42-yard run, Lakewood responded as Michael Goolsby returned the ensuing kickoff to the River 23-yard line. Junior running back Casimier Mitchell took it from there, running the ball five times and scoring from four yards out to get the Rangers on the board.
The Pirates returned the favor, though, as Pat Connors returned the kickoff to the Lakewood 46-yard line. A Smith run of 24 yards helped the Pirates get close, with Lowry taking it in from the 1-yard line. Alex Theiling added the conversion kick, and it was 21-7 Pirates with 2:36 still left in the first quarter.
The scoring slowed after that, though Lowry added a 41-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to give the home team a seemingly comfortable 28-7 lead. But the Rangers had other ideas and went to work in the second half behind Mitchell and the arm of junior quarterback Peyton Graham.
Mitchell scored on a 9-yard run to cut the deficit to 14, but another Lowry score - this one from 35 yards out - pushed the River lead back out to 21. Graham responded with a 23-yard scoring strike to junior receiver Andrew Lesko with 2:35 left in the quarter.
But another special teams clutch allowed Connors to return the kickoff all the way back to the Ranger 11. Three plays later, Smith took it in from one yard out to give River a 42-21 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
That touchdown proved to be a difference maker as the Ranger offense kept coming.
Facing a fourth down and six, Graham found junior receiver Joe Malone for a 17-yard gain to the Pirate 33. A River pass interference call five plays later put the Rangers at the 9-yard line, then Graham struck again. He rolled right and found his senior tight end, Aaron Morit, on a 6-yard throw to make it 42-28 with 8:24 left in the game.
After his conversion kick, Ranger kicker Jameson Foran followed up with an onsides kick that was recovered by Goolsby at the River 48. Graham hit Morit on a 7-yarder, then Mitchell churned up field for another 17 yards. On first and 10 from the 13, Graham found Morit for another touchdown to pull the Rangers close at 42-35 with 6:59 left.
But the Rangers couldn't succeed on another onside attempt, then they couldn't get the stop they were looking for defensively. An 11-yard pass from Lowry to Connors got River down to the Ranger 29, then Lowry took it in from four yards out six plays later to push three lead back out to 14 with 2:49 remaining.
Lakewood started its next drive from its own 32, but an eventual fourth-down sack of Graham by River defender Brock Riemenschneider ended any hopes of a Ranger rally.
"First of all, we're going to have to be playing much better on the special teams," Lewis lamented. "We can't give them the ball in field position like that. But offensively, we played well. We ran the ball, we threw the ball and did a lot of nice things.
"We just can't get down 14-0. I thought we ran the ball effectively, and I think that's the best Peyton has played all year. He threw the ball well and ran the ball well to. But we're down 14-0, and with their guy at quarterback we weren't able to make that difference up," he said.
Unofficially, Mitchell finished the game with 127 yards on 24 carries, while Graham added another 54 yards. The Ranger signal caller also completed 14 of 22 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
But River managed to take Goolsby out the game,. The Pirates kicked the ball away from him and out of bounds on most kickoffs and settled for the penalty instead.
"Their return guy is good," said Adams of Goolsby. "We saw that in the game film when he took one back 99 yards against Avon. We knew that was a big piece for them, so we wanted to keep the ball out of his hands.
"Defensively, when you have a team on the ropes you've got to throw that knockout punch. We didn't do that. We've got a young team, and I think we learned a lesson here in the fourth quarter," he added.
(Follow us on Twitter @BeAFanatic. You can also follow NEOSPORTSPIX at @BayLightStudio)