Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
In their Friday night matchup at First Federal Lakewood Stadium, the Brecksville-Broadview Heights and Lakewood football teams both got a lesson on just how important special teams are.
Chances are the Bees enjoyed that class a bit more than the Rangers.
After taking an early 7-3, Brecksville took advantage of two costly Lakewood kicking game miscues in the first half. That ignited a 28-0 run that led to a 34-18 win over the Rangers and kept their Division II playoff hopes within reach.
"Our special teams have been one of those things that have kept us in games this year," lamented Lakewood head coach Mike Ribar, whose team fell to 2-6 on the season. "You just can't have mistakes like that against good teams.
"When those two plays happened, they jumped on it and took advantage. We just couldn't recover," he said.
Ribar's Rangers took the opening kickoff and got off to a good enough start, using a 26-yard kickoff return from Michael Goolsby to set up shop at their own 46-yard line. The Rangers' drive stalled at the Brecksville 10-yard line, but Kyle Moran hit a 27-yard field goal to give the home team a 3-0 lead with 7:54 left in the first half.
But Brecksville, which came into the game on a five-game winning streak, used its big-play offense to strike back quickly.
A 14-yard pass play from quarterback Luke Strnad to wide receiver Tyler Tupa had the Bees at the Ranger 46. Two plays later, Strnad hit Tupa down the right sideline for a 46-yard touchdown pass. Jacob Nypaver hit the conversion kick, and it was 7-3 Bees.
Just moments later, the bell rang and class was in session.
Lakewood muffed Nypaver's ensuing kickoff, and the Bees received at the Ranger 43. Brecksville immediately went for the big play as Strnad hit Tupa on a 24-yard pass play down to the 19-yard line.
Six plays later on third and goal, Strnad found Garrett Patterson from nine yards out to make it 14-3, Bees, with 3:07 left in the first quarter.
Lakewood would fail to move the ball on its next possession, thanks in part to a holding call that negated a 14-yard Goolsby run. But the Ranger defense came up with a big play, with Cody Riccotone recovering a Brecksville fumble at the Bee 49-yard line as the first quarter came to an end.
But despite that brief momentum shift, the Rangers had one more tough lesson to swallow.
Forced to punt on fourth down and eight, the Rangers lined up, snapped the ball, but failed to block Brecksville's Victor Bierman. The sophomore burst through the middle, blocked Andrew Lesko's punt attempt.
Not only did Bierman get the block, he recovered the ball and rambled 40 yard to the south end zone for a Brecksville touchdown. Just like that, the Bees had a commanding 21-3 lead with 10:30 still to play in the first half.
"We draw some stuff up every week for special teams," admitted Brecksville head coach Jason Black, whose team moved to 7-1 on the season. "Anytime you can steal possessions, that's what you need to do.
"We like to attack on special teams. We attack on offense and on defense, why not do it in this third of the game?" Black said. "It's a very important part of the game. Bierman has executed about three punt blocks this year. He just finds a way to get through.
"I was glad he picked it up and ran too," he added.
Lakewood's defense, despite the deficit, continued to play on as an interception by Atticus Kenny stopped Brecksville's next drive. But with 4:52 left in the half, Strnad scored from three yards out on a keeper to make it 28-3, Bees. The visitors had one more drive in the half, but were stopped at their own 30.
"I wanted to see our kids come out here and compete," Black said. "Not just for 24 minutes, for for a full 48.
"Unfortunately, we didn't compete for a full 48 tonight. But I thought they played pretty hard . Our kids also needed to come out here an execute their assignments and really not focus on anything more than doing their job, and doing it right.
"After that, whatever happens, happens," he said.
What happened to start the second half was another Brecksville touchdown.
A 10-yard run by Strnad, and a 16-yard pass play from Strnad to Tupa got the Bees a first and 10 at the Ranger 32. On the next play, Strnad went for it all down the left side and found Tupa, who hauled in the scoring strike despite tight coverage by the Rangers.
The Bees missed the conversion kick, but still had a 34-3 lead with 10:05 left in the third quarter.
"I don't think we gave up, even when we came out and it was 28-3," Ribar said. "In the second half, they came right at us and bam, they score quickly on their first drive.
"But our guys have to make that play. We were there, so it's not like we got burned deep on that play. We've just got to make plays. We could have laid down, but we went out there, kept pushing and were moving the line a little bit. We came out and threw a little bit to give it a shot and see where we were at.
"But I thought we played until the end," he said.
Lakewood's next drive was stopped when Tupa intercepted a Jack Witri pass. But two possessions later, Ranger running back Michael Johnston struck. He turned in the biggest offensive play of the night, taking the handoff, breaking tackles and rambling 73 yards for the Rangers' first touchdown of the night.
"Give me 30 of them. Give me 30 Michael Johnstons," Ribar said of his senior workhorse, who gained 133 yards on 11 carries.
"He's been a great athlete for us this year. He's not a very vocal guy, but he's a leader because of his actions, how he plays. There's never a day off with him. Ever. He always practices hard, and you never have to worry about that kind of stuff from him.
"There's no attitude, he just goes out there and plays. And he does that with such intensity, and runs so damn hard that it's hard stopping him. He breaks at least one a game, and he had two more today," he said.
Lakewood added one more touchdown with 1:50 left as senior quarterback Peyton Graham ran a sneak from one yard out. Witri hit Goolsby for the 2-point conversion to close out the scoring.
For Brecksville, it's on to probably its biggest game of the year. Next Friday, the Bees host Berea-Midpark in a game that most likely will decide the Southwestern Conference title.
"It'll come down to whoever executes the best, who does their assignments the best," Black said. "Who does their job? It will be who just flat-out does their job.
"That's what it's going to come down to next week. We know what Berea-Midpark has. They're an extremely talented football team, and they're a huge football team. They do what they do, and they do it well.
"I'm just anxious to see our kids go into this situation and see them compete," he added.
Lakewood will play its final home game, and it won't be an easy task as undefeated Midview comes to town.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this game: