Story by Lisa Gayle Grayson
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
It's only the midpoint of the regular season, but head coach Ray Hradek said he and his coaching staff periodically remind their Berea-Midpark football players that one of their goals is to reach Week 11.
The Titans took several more steps toward making that postseason objective a reality in Week 5 with their 47-7 Week 5 victory Friday night over perennial power Avon Lake at Tressel Field. They scored on six of their first seven possessions at Baldwin Wallace University's George Finnie Stadium.
Behind Nick Gassman's record-setting performance that featured five touchdowns in the first half, Berea-Midpark topped the Shoremen in a Southwestern Conference clash. Meanwhile, the Titans' defense limited them to just 65 total offensive yards in the first two quarters.
"I thought we played at our level of skill and talent," said Hradek, whose team was 15th in the first Division I, Region 2 computer ratings, just one above the eventual postseason cutoff.
The Shoreman worked feverishly to prevent a shutout against a running clock in the second half. They got on the board late in the fourth quarter with Jeremiah Campo's 13-yard completion to Brad Ziegler.
"We've been on both sides," Shoremen head coach Dave Dlugosz said.
"We pasted them a couple of times the same way. Now it's their turn. Everything kind of works out in a cycle, and the cycle's kind of in their favor right now," he said.
It was the first time in school history Berea-Midpark, now 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the SWC, defeated Avon Lake. Granted, the Titans have been playing only two years as a merged program, neither the former Berea nor Midpark were able to get past the Shoremen since joining the SWC in 2005.
Prior to that, neither program beat Avon Lake since 1986. That season, Midpark topped the Shoremen 36-14.
"We didn't state the historical fact to the guys," Hradek said. "We just said it's been a while. The dislike of losing and wanting to show up and show out was big for these kids."
As if ending the skid against Avon Lake wasn't enough, Gassman took his turn marking up the Titans record book. The junior quarterback finished with 19-of-23 for 320 yards and four passing touchdowns.
Gassman erased the previous marks he set this season (288 yards, three TDs). In the first half, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound signal caller matched his yardage record and connected with teammates for four passing TDs.
Gassman also ran in a score from 1 yard out during the first quarter.
"Besides being of good quarterback, he's a very good football player," Hradek said. "Things we've never repped, any situation he's exposed to, he acts naturally to it."
Gassman's initial touchdown pass capped the Titans' opening drive with a 26-yard completion to junior Shawn Epps. On Avon Lake's ensuing drive, senior defensive back Jared Paul picked off Campo. Gassman, five plays later, dove over the pile at the goal line to score from 1 yard out.
Although senior lineman Matt Pechaitis blocked the PAT, Berea-Midpark unleashed its fury in the second quarter with four more touchdowns. The first was a 3-yard run by junior Joey Bachie, followed by a 42-yard completion to 6-foot-6, 180-pound junior wide receiver Brett Swinnerton (four catches, 140 yards).
Gassman connected again with Epps on a 1-yard shovel pass, then completed a 35-yarder to senior Justin Harris with 1:34 to go in the half.
"Our last touchdown with Justin, we run that play but he never looks over at Justin," Hradek said.
"That's just something they just did on their own. Good teams do that. They make big plays out of ad lib kinds of things," he said.
The Titans' final score came in the third quarter on a 48-yard run by Tyrese Holland. The sophomore zigzagged across the field as he avoided defenders during his first carry of the night. The PAT failed, but Berea-Midpark led 47-0.
"I think we're getting better every week," Hradek said. "There's still some younger guys on the team that are doing most of the scoring, but we do appreciate the senior leadership.
"We've got some talent, and it's a good, cohesive group," he said.
The Shoremen put together their 80-yard, 11-play scoring drive in the fourth quarter. It was the deepest Avon Lake made it into Titans territory all night. Previously, it reached as far as the Berea-Midpark 32 before turning over the ball on downs in the first quarter.
Campo (4-of-18, 39 yards and two interceptions 2) had numerous nice throws throughout the game, but the Titans defense was all over his receivers and forced both of the senior quarterback's picks.
Avon Lake moved the ball mostly with its running game, thanks to seniors Anthony Thielman (eight carries, 55 yards), Campo (nine carries, 28 yards), Brian Sharpe (eight carries, 25 yards) and Tony Mango (three carries, 11 yards).
"We're working just as hard as we've ever worked," said Dlugosz, whose team fell to 1-4 overall and 0-1 in the SWC. "I have a great coaching staff that is working extremely hard to put out kids in the best position to win.
"Our kids are practicing really hard. We've run a gauntlet of five teams all within the top 15 in the Cleveland area, but we came up short," he said.
The game against the Titans was just another test for Dlugosz and his crew. Avon Lake already has taken its lumps against DII playoff contenders such as Bedford, North Ridgeville and Avon. Next up is Westlake, which was rated ninth in D-II, Region 3.
"When you think about Berea-Midpark, they've got a lot of good athletes on that team," Dlugosz said. "The coaching staff does a good job with those athletes. They utilized them really well.
"It"s showing on the field more this year," he added.
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