For a moment, nobody on the field seemed to know for sure. But when the officials finally ruled that North Olmsted had recovered the ball in the end zone, all the Eagles knew was that they were leaving Westlake with a crazy, hard-fought 21-14 overtime win Friday night.
“We needed that one,” said North Olmsted head coach Mike Ptacek with a smile as his Eagles broke a three-game losing streak and climbed back into the Southwestern Conference race.
“I have no idea,” Ptacek replied when asked who recovered the ball in the south end zone of Lou Duchez Field. “We couldn’t tell from where we were on the sideline. All I know for sure is that it was a North Olmsted player.
“This was a big boost for our kids. We practice hard and play hard. I’m just so happy for these guys and how they were able to persevere. It took a little bit longer than 48 minutes, but we found a way to get it done,” he added.
On a soggy Homecoming Night, Westlake had battled their longtime rivals tooth and nail. Both teams came up with big defensive plays in the second half, leading to scoreless third and fourth quarters and the resulting overtime period.
North Olmsted got the ball first at the 20 yard line. On the first play, sophomore quarterback Brad Novak kept the ball, broke a tackle and raced through the Demons for the go-ahead touchdown. Thomas Rodriguez added the conversion kick, and it was 21-14, Eagles, as Westlake prepared to take its turn from the 20.
Senior quarterback Phil Brusk gained seven yards on the first play, then fellow senior Jonathan Brick had carries of two and five yards to give the Demons first and goal at the five. After a timeout, Brick carried again to just inside the three.
On the very next carry, Brick took the handoff and went left off tackle.
With a crowd of blockers in front of him, he appeared to reach the goal line and began to go down. Outside the pile of offensive and defensive linemen, some North Olmsted players indicated the ball had come lose.
There was a delay by the officials, with the eventual ruling being a lost fumble by the Demons and a game-winning recovery by the Eagles.
“We thought Johnny put it over the goal line, and then there was a pause,” said Demons head coach Mark Campo, having just viewed the final play on the game tape.
“Five seconds later, you see the ball pop out, everybody stopped and they’re jumping around,” Campo said. “It’s frustrating, because you don’t want to let a call or something like that dictate the outcome of the game You don’t ever want to be in that position.
“We had our chances. We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times and gave them a seven on the interception and gave them seven on a pass that should have been batted down. But I also thought they played physical football. I have to give them credit for that.
“We had our chances, and we didn’t take advantage of them,” he added.
Both teams were able to take advantage in the first half despite the wet field conditions. North Olmsted drew first blood as senior Shamir Tomlinson scored from two yards out just under three minutes into the game. That score was set up by a 27-yard pass play from Novak to senior Marc Remy.
Westlake, thanks in part to carries of 29 and 15 yards by Brick, scored on its second possession of the game. Brick took a direct snap and scored from the one, but the kick failed as the Demons still trailed, 7-6.
Early in the second quarter, Westlake was forced into a punting situation at its own 34 yard line. But on fourth down and one, the Demons tried to catch North Olmsted off guard and attempted a pass out of punt formation.
Eagle junior Mike Starcovic, however, stepped in front of the errant pass at the 33 yard line and raced into the end zone. The Rodriguez kick was good, and it was 14-6, North Olmsted, with 9:25 left in the first half.
After holding the Eagles on fourth down deep in Westlake territory, the Demons came up with a big play of their own. Brusk rolled to his left against an onrushing Eagle defense and found senior Kyle Perkins on a screen pass.
Perkins eluded a pair of defenders, moved to his right and was gone for a 72-yard touchdown. Brusk ran it in for the two-point conversion, and the game was knotted up at 14-14 with 3:12 left in the half.
The defenses ruled the second half, but Westlake had two scoring chances. The Demons drove to the Eagle 23 yard line in the third quarter, but missed a 41-yard field goal attempt. Westlake’s second drive of the fourth quarter resulted in an interception at the North Olmsted 28.
“Our defense stepped up in the second half,” Ptacek said. “Offensively, it was a very sloppy game today with the field conditions.
“For us to get out of here making very few mistakes and taking care of the ball the way we did says something. We’ve very conscious about taking care of the football. We’ve coached that up, and the kids have really responded.
“It was a great team win,” Ptacek said. “This was one that we needed. Our young players keep growing and are getting better every week. Our offensive line did a great job of creating some space on that last overtime touchdown run, and Brad made a play. He broke a tackle and squeezed into the end zone, and obviously the scoreboard shows what happened.
“We’re proud of Brad. We’re proud of all the guys. And our defense stepped up at the end when we needed them to,” he concluded.
Unofficially, Novak led the Eagles with 131 yards on 13 carries. Brick was a workhorse for the Demons, carrying the ball 35 times for 130 yards and a touchdown.
Next Friday, Westlake travels to Olmsted Falls, a 27-16 winner over Brecksville. North Olmsted returns home to face the Bees the same night.