There’s really no other way to describe Friday night’s football game between Westlake and Rocky River.
It was an all-out brawl.
At Lou Duchez Field, the two long-time rivals pounded away at each other from the opening kickoff to the final gun. Big defensive plays and hard hits took center stage. When it was all said and done, the Demons had prevailed with a 10-6 win over the visiting Pirates.
“Our defense played their butts off,” said Westlake head coach Mark Campo, whose team turned in the defensive series of the game early on in the fourth quarter.
“They decided they were going to try to muscle us in when they got down on our goal line, and our defense rose to the occasion. We dug in and made some plays down there,” he continued.
“They had first and goal at the four or three, and they rammed it up at us four times and didn’t get in.”
Trailing 10-6, the Pirates had gotten a huge 71-yard run from junior Martin Finnegan to get their best scoring opportunity of the second half. The ball was on the Westlake 16-yard line, and three plays later the Pirates had first down and goal from the Demon six.
Finnegan took the first snap and bulled his way down to the three. The next run made it to the 2-yard line, and the third run lost a yard. On fourth down and three, River was stopped inches short of the goal line as junior linebacker Daniel Strodtbeck made the tackle.
It was Strodtbeck’s second big defensive play of the game.
In the first quarter, he intercepted a River pass and raced 48 yards for the touchdown to tie the score at 6-6. Alec Ferrell made the conversion kick, and the Demons had their first lead of the night, 7-6, with 2:32 remaining in the first quarter.
“We sat down with him after the game last weekend and had a talk with him,” Campo said of the 5-10, 185 Strodtbeck. “We felt we weren’t getting out of him what we needed to get out of him. He definitely heeded those words and stepped it up, both in practice this week and in the game tonight.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Campo said. “The defense faced all kinds of adversity with our offense’s inability to do anything tonight. They never faltered. They dug in, they made plays when they had to, never hanged their heads.
“They didn’t care where the ball was at. They just kept playing.”
Meanwhile, River was getting its licks in as well on defense. An interception of a Westlake pass by Michael Dickey, for example, prevented the Demons from scoring on their first possession of the game after an 88-yard drive.
Three plays later, sophomore quarterback Alex Theiling - making his first varsity start - found former starter Austin Kelly in the end zone for a 6-0 River lead. Later in the quarter, Eric Oster recovered a Westlake fumble to give the Pirates and other opportunity at the Demon 20.
But the rest of the way, both defenses made the end zone off limits. The only other score in the game was Ferrell’s 37-yard field goal with 2:04 left in the third quarter that accounted for the final score.
Rocky River had one more opportunity late in the fourth quarter when it drove inside the Westlake 35. Westlake’s Anthony Zappone and Malek Khawam, however, combined for a big sack of Theiling, then Quinn Bari did likewise on fourth down and 14.
But as well as the Demons played defensively, the Pirates made their presence felt as well, according to Pirates head coach Rick Adams.
“I thought our kids played great defense,” Adams said. “Our defensive coaches did a fantastic job getting our guys ready. Watching these guys on film, I was wondering how we were going to stop them.
“Our defense hit. We made some big hits on their quarterback, and I think he’s going to be sore tomorrow,” Adams said. “What we were able to do from last week to this week is just tremendous. Our defense did a great job.
“Offensively, it was Alex’s first start. He did some good things, and he did some sophomore things. We just have to grow from there and get better. But I’ve got to do a better job with the plays down there on the goal line.
“A couple years ago we stopped them in almost the same situation in overtime. This year, I guess what goes around comes around,” he added.
Both teams are now 2-1 on the season. Westlake will open the Southwestern Conference season by hosting Amherst next Friday night. The Comets defeated Clearview, 35-14, to win their first game of 2011.
Rocky River will open West Shore Conference play next Friday night at Vermilion. The Sailors were blasted at Firelands, 34-0, to fall to 1-2 heading into league play.