Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by NEOSPORTSPIX.COM
Video by Rob Trautman
For the better part of three quarters, the Lakewood defense had shut down Bay's leading rusher, Nick Best. As a result, the Rangers held a slim 14-10 lead heading into the game's final 12 minutes.
But as it turned out, the junior running back saved his "best" for last.
Best churned out 130 back-breaking yards in the final quarter, including a 33-yard touchdown run that gave the Rockets a 17-14 win Friday night in a West Shore Conference game at Memorial Stadium.
With the win, the Rockets moved to 4-1 overall, quadrupling their win total of the previous season, and gained some valuable points in the OHSAA Computer Ratings. Bay went into the game third in Division IV, Region 11.
The Rockets also evened their WSC record to 1-1. Lakewood, on the other hand, fell to 2-3 overall and 0-2 in conference play. Two big plays by Best were a big reason for that.
Lakewood has just taken a 14-10 lead with 3:43 left in the third quarter. Senior Michael Johnston, who ran the ball 23 times for 114 yards on the night, took it in from three yards out. Kyle Moran added the conversion kick, and the Rangers looked to be on their way to a win.
In fact, things looked even better for the Rangers with 10:46 remaining in the game. That's when junior defensive back Atticus Kenny intercepted a John Koz pass in the end zone to end a 10-play, 74-yard Rocket drive.
But the Bay defense held Lakewood to a three-and-out, and a roll of the punt went the home team's way. Bay, with the ball on the Ranger 41-yard line, had a third and two from the 33 when Best busted through the right side of the line, cut toward the sideline and scored with 8:36 left.
Alec White added the conversion kick, making it a 3-point game. On its next possession, Lakewood drove down to the Rocket 34-yard line, only to have a fumbled handoff and an interception by Bay junior Rex Sunahara end the threat.
Shortly thereafter came the Best's biggest run of the night.
On third down and two on his own 19-yard line, Bay head coach Ron Rutt called timeout. With 2:00 left in the game, there was still time for one more Lakewood comeback attempt.
But on the very next play, Koz handed off to Best. He broke through the front part of the Ranger defense and rambled all the way down to Lakewood's 9-yard line. From there, the Rockets killed off all but 47 seconds left on the scoreboard clock.
"One of our guys in the huddle said 'I'll do whatever it takes to win. I'm all in,'" Best said after the game. "I remember him saying that, then I said 'hey, same with me, guys, let's finish this.'
"I got the ball, and my line opened up a big hole. I had one guy to beat, made a move and just took off," Best said. "I got caught, but we were in pretty good shape. Huge props to our guys up front, and to our coaches for our conditioning. We started to wear them down.
"There wasn't a lot of open room in the first half. But in the second half, we got a couple of big plays, a couple of big runs. That's all because of our conditioning and the big guys up front," he added.
Best wound up, unofficially, with 170 yards on 21 carries. He also had a big defensive play when he knocked a pass away on Lakewood's final drive.
"He's a warrior," said Bay head coach Ron Rutt.
"That's the best word I can use to describe Nick. He just keeps battling," Rutt said. "We ask a lot of him, and he hardly ever leaves the field both offensively and defensively. He continues to make big plays for us.
"You know the saying of how big players make big plays at big times? Well, that's what Nick does for us. He's a big part of what we're doing here," he said.
The running game was a big part of what Lakewood was doing, but the Bay defense managed to step up when it was needed the most.
"We had a good drive, and had a chance to put it away," said Lakewood head coach Mike Ribar. "We had our opportunities.
"You have to execute in high school football. It comes down to who makes the plays, that's all it is," Ribar said. "They had a couple of nice plays tonight, but overall they didn't do anything more than we did.
"It just ended up with them having a few more points," he said.
Lakewood scored first on a 1-yard quarterback sneak from senior Peyton Graham at the 4:47 mark of the first quarter. Bay got on the scoreboard with its defense early in the second quarter when Graham was sacked in the end zone for a safety with 6:29 left in the half.
The Rockets grabbed their first lead of the game early in the third quarter when Koz found sophomore wideout Jimmy Hoke all alone in the end zone from 12 yards out. Rutt decided to go for two, and the move paid off as Koz rolled out and found junior tight end Kyle Thompson for the conversion.
Lakewood took the ensuing kickoff, however, and marched 80 yards in nine plays. A 46-yard run by Johnston and a 21-yard Graham-to-Quentin Palmer pass helped the Rangers get down to the Rocket 4-yard line. On second down and three, Johnston went in over right tackle to give the Rangers their final lead.
"I thought our defense played well all night," Ribar said. "You give up 15 points on the defensive side of the game, that's not a bad thing.
"They've been scoring a lot of points, and so has everybody else in this conference," Ribar said. "We put a hold on them right there late int he game, but we've got to score offensively. We drive on them a couple of times, and then we go backwards. We get down inside the 40, inside the 30 and we make a couple of mistakes.
"We've just got to keep working at it. Michael Johnston played a great game. He got a couple of big rushes for us tonight, and I thought our line played well. We've just got to go out and finish drives. That's what we're not doing right now," he said.
Rutt said his team's ability bounce back was key for his team.
"We were very resilient tonight," Rutt said. "We got down early, and just really had to claw our way back.
"We struggled getting things going offensively early on, but we stuck with our game plan," Rutt said. "The kids just kept fighting, and we eventually started breaking some plays. All of a sudden, instead of a 2-yard gain we were breaking it for eight, nine or 10 yards.
"We could tell we were wearing them down a bit, so we kept fighting. That interception down there when we were in tight hurt, because we had the momentum going. We were looking to put the nail in the coffin there.
"They got that interception, and it was pretty deflating. But I'm proud of the way our kids came back from that," he said.
Ribar also said he appreciated the effort his squad gave despite losing its second game of the season when having the lead in the fourth quarter. The other came in Week Two against North Olmsted.
"I know the boys are giving us everything they have," he said. "Our goal at the beginning of the year was to be in every game in the fourth quarter and have a chance to win it.
"Well, in that aspect we're 4-1. We'll go back to work and get ready for Rocky River next week," he added.
The Rangers will host the Pirates Friday night at First Federal Lakewood Stadium. Bay will have a non-conference game that night at North Olmsted.
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