Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by Ryan Kaczmarski
Video by Rob Trautman
Football coaches crave it, their players strive for it and a team's end result depends on it. Friday night at Drive Morris Stadium, a young North Olmsted squad added a good dose of consistency to their overall game and made it count.
The Eagles, behind a 170-yard performance from Joshua Hofstetler, built a 21-12 halftime lead and came away with a 35-26 Homecoming Night win over visiting Westlake in the Southwestern Conference opener for both schools. The win bolstered North Olmsted's overall record to 3-1 and atoned for last year's storm-delayed loss at Westlake.
"Our goal this week was to play four quarters in every phase," said Eagles head coach Tim Brediger, whose team racked up 352 yards of offense and capitalized on a number of Demon miscues.
"Last week, our offense, defense and special teams all let us down at some point," Brediger said. "Our goal this week was to clean that up as much as we could. There were still errors on both sides of the ball tonight, but we played a cleaner game.
"Still, we had them third and 35 one time and let them off the hook. We've got to be smarter about how we handle those situations. But again, we're a very young team," he said.
Brediger's Eagles found themselves down early as Westlake marched 72 yards in 10 plays on the opening drive of the game. Junior JaQuan Hardy, who led all rushers with 196 yards, carried the ball on eight of those plays, including the 3-yard touchdown run.
The kick failed, but the Demons had established their run game and taken a 6-0 lead. In the next four minutes, however, the tide began to turn quickly in North Olmsted's favor.
The Eagles' defense pinned Westlake deep on its second possession, forcing a punt at the Demon 5-yard line. Senior Matt Starcovic returned the punt to the Westlake 30, and on the first play from scrimmage junior quarterback Christian Ammons hit senior Ben Kurcsak on a 23-yard pass play down the Westlake sideline.
On the next play, Ammons handed off to Hofstetler, who rambled up the middle for the tying touchdown. Max Becker added the conversion kick, and the Eagles had the lead.
As it turned out, it was a lead they would never relinquish.
On Westlake's first play from its own 42, junior quarterback Andris Balodis was intercepted by Kurcsak. That gave the Eagles the ball at the Westlake 30 for the second-straight possession. Four plays later, Ammons hit junior wideout Ryan Coleman on a 17-yard scoring pass.
Becker made the kick, and just like that it was 14-6, Eagles, with 2:06 left in the quarter.
From that point on, Westlake's offense began to move the ball. Balodis got the Demons in the end zone early in the second quarter on a 13-yard pass play to junior receiver Mark Schuler. Westlake was driving toward a third touchdown on its next possession, but a fumble at the Eagle 17-yard line was recovered by junior Mario DeJoy.
With 3:01 left in the half, North Olmsted went on a 72-yard drive that was helped along by a Westlake pass interference call. With 45.8 ticks left on the clock, Ammons found Coleman on a 3-yard scoring strike to give the home team a 21-12 halftime lead.
In the second half, Westlake continued to move the ball. But even though the Demons amassed over 500 yards on offense, mistakes continued to creep into their game.
In the first half, a 54-yard touchdown run by Hardy was called back due to a penalty. That drive eventually ended on the fumble recovered by DeJoy. Late in the third quarter, the Demons were heading into the end zone again when the ball was fumbled just before the goal line. The ball rolled out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.
North Olmsted made the Demons pay two plays later as Hofstetler took the handoff, got through Westlake's defensive front and rambled 74 yards for a touchdown.
"They played well, so give them credit," said Westlake head coach Mark Campo, whose team fell to 2-2 on the season. "They made plays when they had to.
"We left 21 points on the field offensively," Campo said. "And defensively, we gave up way too many big plays. But I'm going to tell you this right now, and it's the same thing I just told our kids. When this is all said and done, we're going to be a good football team.
"We're going to compete in this conference for a championship, and we're going to compete for a playoff spot. We've just got to clean things up. We have enough talent, we just have to play smarter," he said.
Westlake cleaned things up enough to make things interesting. Hardy scored from 22 yards out just before the end of the third quarter, then scored on a 4-yard run with 3:12 left in the game.
But North Olmsted managed to get two more scores of its own in the half and salted the game away behind the running of Hofstetler. His 5-yard scoring run with 6:29 left in the game made it 35-20 to give his team a bit more breathing room against Westlake's explosive offense.
"On that one drive, they ran it down our throats a little bit," said Brediger as he talked about the fumble through the end zone and Hofstetler's big run.
"I've been on the opposite side of that many times, where you work your tail off to get down there and something like that happens," he said. "We took advantage of our opportunities. Benny Kurcsak had an interception early in the game on their sideline and had a nice return. We had a couple of fumbles we recovered when they were driving.
"We're still a work in progress. But like I told the kids, we have the same record as we did at this time last year. But more importantly, we're 1-0 in the conference, where as last year we lost that first conference game. A win like this gives you a little more momentum," he added.
Campo felt his team made too many mistakes to overcome.
"You can't have a penalty on a touchdown run," Campo said. "You can't have a fumble going into the end zone.
"You can't throw a pick and cut off a route on a 5-cut. We made mental mistakes that we knew coming in couldn't happen. We knew this was going to be a dogfight. Our kids battled, but it was just too much for us to overcome.
"Like I said, North Olmsted played well. We'll go back to work and get ready for Olmsted Falls next week," he added.
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