Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by Ryan Kaczmarski
If Friday night's North Ridgeville-North Olmsted football game had been aired on ESPN, it would have already been labeled an Instant Classic.
Down 34-13, the hometown Eagles staged a near miraculous comeback and tied the game at 34-all with 1:34 left in regulation. But on the ensuing kickoff, Ranger junior Demario McCall turned the tables in a hurry with his 99-yard kickoff return that gave North Ridgeville a 41-34 win at Drive Morris Stadium.
McCall, who had already rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns, hauled in the high, floating kick just inside the 1-yard line. He broke a number of tackles around the 10 and put the pedal to the metal up the left side.
All the Eagles could do at that point was follow McCall's vapor trail to the end zone. North Olmsted mounted one last drive, but a Nate Asp interception with 25.6 ticks left on the clock closed things out for the Rangers.
"Any time you've got Demario, you feel pretty confident. He's a special player," said Rangers first-year head coach Luke Durbin after addressing his players.
"I don't think they wanted to kick the ball to him. I think they wanted to kick it out of the end zone. I think he just miskicked it. I don't want to put blame anywhere. I just think it was one of those thing that happens in the game of football.
"We can coach 'em up, but they've got to go out and execute," he added.
Just moments before McCall's big return, North Olmsted had tied the game on a 15-yard pass play from junior quarterback Christian Ammons to senior wide receiver Matt Starcovic. An electric 55-yard flea flicker preceded the play, as Ammons threw the ball out wide to Starcovic, who then threw the ball down the left sideline to a wide-open Ryan Coleman.
Pass interference was called against North Ridgeville on the touchdown toss, and the penalty was marked off on the kickoff. The Eagles had kicked away from McCall the entire game and had a chance to pin the visitors deep with the kick coming from the Ranger 45.
Instead, the kick missed its target and fell to McCall.
"Our intention was to kick it across to that corner, to the other guy, No. 14," explained Eagles head coach Tim Brediger. "The ball didn't go where we wanted it too, obviously.
"It happens, but we still have 10 guys running down field who should make a tackle," he said. "We thought we had him on the 10-yard line. A couple of our guys had a grasp on him. But obviously our intent was to use that field position and try to kick it inside the 10 to that sideline.
"Our intent all night was to kick it nowhere near him, whether it was punting or on kickoffs. He made a great play, and I give him a ton of credit. That's a special kid," he added.
North Olmsted still had one more chance to force another tie. Coleman returned the kickoff to his own 43-yard line, and a 10-yard pass play from Ammons to senior Ben Kurcsak got the ball down to the North Ridgeville 44.
Ammons spiked the ball to stop the clock, but Asp made a nice play to intercept the next pass and seal the win for the Rangers.
"Football is an up and down game," said Durbin, whose team will take a 2-1 record to Avon Lake next Friday night. "It's a lot like life. I think that's why it's the best game anybody can play.
"We go from being up big to a tie game," he said. "They're a great team. North Olmsted's got some great players who made some great plays to get them back in the game and tie it. We've been preaching the whole time that no matter what happens, you've got to react.
"Bad plays are going to happen. Pick yourself up and make up for it on the next one, and we had a lot of that going on," he said.
One big downer for the Rangers was an injury to starting quarterback Collin Sullinger. The sophomore signal caller was carted off on a stretcher and taken to the hospital with 5:20 left in the third quarter. There was no official word Friday night on the extent of the injury.
Still, North Ridgeville finished the drive as McCall took the ball on a draw play and scampered 61 yards for the touchdown that made it 34-13 with 4:46 left in the third quarter.
Starcovic ignited North Olmsted's fourth-quarter rally with a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown on the first play of the quarter. Then the Eagle defense held, stopping McCall on a fourth down and two with 6:19 left in the game.
On the very next play, Ammons found Kurcsak wide open down the left sideline for a 64-yard touchdown that had the North Olmsted fans up on their feet. Max Becker added the conversion kick, and all of a sudden it was 34-27 with 6:08 remaining. North Olmsted's defense held two more times, and the flea flicker led to a tied game.
But the Rangers fans had the final celebration as McCall worked his magic. The running back finished with 206 yards rushing on 26 carries, while teammate Jonah Bowden gained 102 yards on 10 carries as the Rangers racked up 441 yards of offense on the night.
North Olmsted, despite having problems running the ball, finished with 393 yards of offense. Ammons completed 24 of 39 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns, while Kurcsak, coming back from an injury, had eight receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown.
Starcovic had eight receptions for 92 yards and three of those scores, while Coleman had three catches for 88 yards. It was an offensive outburst Brediger probably would have liked to have seen earlier in the game.
"The frustrating part in the first half is that we didn't have that offensively," Brediger said.
"We tried to run the ball a little bit more to keep McCall off the field," he said. "We couldn't do that, and we got a little bit behind schedule offensively. In the second half, we felt we had to throw the ball to win because we couldn't run the ball well.
"Our kids made some great plays," he said. "We had kids like Benny Kurcsak, who was basically playing with half a shoulder tonight, making a play down the sideline. Starcovic made a great play in the end zone on a fade. Christian did a great job, and he was under pressure all night. For a young kid to make those throws is pretty special."
Brediger felt his team fought hard, but probably learned a lesson or two in the process.
"I love the heart," he said. "Our motto is 'Persist,' and it's on the back of our jerseys. Our kids did that tonight.
"We're going to be a little upset tonight, but the words on the back of the jerseys means something. We fought our tails off for two quarters. But you can't play a team like that and give them what we did in the first half.
"We can't be behind like that. That was the big message tonight," he added.
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Click on the camera below to view Ryan's photos from the game: