Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
They say an elephant never forgets.
Apparently, neither do Pirates.
Rocky River, looking to make amends for last year's opening night loss to Fairview, started 2014 by scoring on five of its six first-half possessions. And the Pirate defense, much maligned in 2013, got off on the right foot as well in a convincing 45-12 win over the Warriors Thursday night at Dr. James B. Daley Stadium.
The Pirate offense, behind senior quarterback Matt Lowry and senior running back Travis Smith, picked up where it left off last year. They seemingly moved the ball at will and cashed in on two of three interceptions by Fairview senior quarterback Colin McNamara in the first half to build a commanding 38-6 halftime lead.
Fairview, on the other hand, was able to move the ball, but couldn't overcome a 21-0 deficit after the first quarter of play.
"They looked good in their scrimmages, so I was very nervous," admitted River head coach Rick Adams said after addressing his team near midfield.
"Our kids have stepped up so much so far this year, especially our defense," he said. "Eric Tuokkola and his defensive staff did a fantastic job of getting the kids to step up from what we did last year to this year. I can't say enough about our coaching staff, and the kids came to play today.
"Offensively, we do what we do. It's comforting to have your defense play like this. It makes you a little more aggressive, because you know your defense is going to step up and make a play," he said.
The Pirate defense did just that on the game's very first play from scrimmage. McNamara took the snap, rolled right and threw deep. The pass was picked off by senior Pat Connors, and the Pirates were in business at their own 39-yard line.
Just two plays later, Lowry found junior wideout Evan Nugent on a 52-yard touchdown play. Junior kicker Matt Goepfert made the conversion, and just like that the visitors were on top 7-0 with 11:20 left in the first quarter.
After a missed Warriors field goal attempt, River took the ball at its own 20-yard line and went on an 80-yard, 12-play drive that ended with Lowry scoring on a 21-yard keeper. Later, McNamara's second interception of the quarter led to a 10-yard touchdown run by Smith.
As the quarter came to an end, the Pirates had a 21-0 lead and the Warriors were already looking for answers.
"We hung in there and tried our best, but obviously they were the better team," said Fairview head coach Tom Narducci.
"They were more physical than we were. They were better in the open field and we couldn't make tackles," he said. "We had little breakdowns up front too, and they're too seasoned and too good of a team to make mistakes like that.
"When you're playing with kids who are inexperienced, it takes its toll when you play an experienced team like Rocky River. Their quarterback is the real deal, and their receivers are the real deal. I thought they were very solid up front too on both sides of the ball," he said.
That solid play up front led to a tipped McNamara pass early in the second quarter that was snagged out of the air by linebacker Jimi Smith. The River senior raced up field and scored on a 43-yard return to make it 28-0, Pirates, with 11:03 left in the half.
Then with 2:51 left, Lowry found junior running back Eric Jones all alone on the left side. Jones sped up field, cut back to his right just inside the Fairview 10 and scored.
Fairview was able to get on the board before halftime as McNamara found senior Dan Kilrain on a crossing pattern for six with just under a minute remaining. But at 35-6, the Pirates were firmly in control of the game.
Fairview's defense stiffened in the second half, but the Pirates still managed one more touchdown as Smith scored on a 47-yard run five plays into the fourth quarter. The Warriors scored one more time, that coming on a 12-yard pass play from McNamara to junior Ben Gligora with 3:27 remaining.
Smith, who missed all of River's scrimmages due to an ankle injury, wound up with 124 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns.
"I came back out and practiced all week," Smith said. "All I tried to do was get better, and I was able to play today.
"Our line did really good today, and they opened up some pretty good holes. I broke a couple of tackles and got into the end zone a couple of times,. And it felt good beating Fairview since we lost to them last year.
"Last year was an OK year for me, but this year I've put in a lot of work along with my teammates. We want to take more pressure off of Matt. We're really looking forward to this year. It's going to be a good one," he said.
Lorwy completed 10 of 20 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for another 72 yards and a touchdown. Even so, Adams said his team still had plenty to improve upon before its next game with Wellington.
"We still have a lot to work on," Adams said.
"A couple of those passes were busted plays. We worked scramble drills in our double sessions, so the kids are familiar with those situations. But we still have work to do. We had some breakdowns where Matt was scrambling, so our protection wasn't what we wanted it to be.
"So yes, we have a ways to go, which is a good thing," he said.
For Fairview, McNamara completed 16 of 30 passes for 183 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Senior Ryan Williams had four receptions for 49 yards, while senior Kevin Shugrue had four receptions for 48 yards.
"We've got to sit down and see what we did and didn't do," Narducci said. "We've got to try to improve from that.
"It's a long season, and it's just one game. Half the teams in Ohio are going to lose this weekend. I've been here before where you take a thrashing like this, but you still bounce back to have a pretty good season. Our kids have to stay positive and regain some of that belief.
"We're just going to move on from here," he added.
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