Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
In Friday night's Battle of the Rangers, neither Lakewood or North Ridgeville had a shot at an OHSAA playoff berth. A light, steady rain fell as the two teams prepared to close out the 2014 season and their final chapter in the history of the West Shore Conference.
Lakewood, in the midst of a 6-game losing streak, was looking to end its season on a high note. Down 31-17, the Rangers drove all the way down to the North Ridgeville 5-yard line as the final seconds of the first half ticked away.
A touchdown would substantially close the gap, with the visitors getting the second half kickoff.
But as it has been all season, it was another case of so close, yet so far for the Rangers. The drive stalled, and North Ridgeville put the first touchdown on the board in the second half on its way to a 45-26 win.
Friday night's game also featured the final edition of the DeMario McCall Show for 2014. North Ridgeville's electrifying junior running back, who often lined up at quarterback, scored three of his four touchdowns in the first half.
After breaking the Lorain County single-game rushing record the previous week with 445 yards, McCall settled for 324 yards rushing on the night.
"He's the best player we've seen all year, no doubt abut it," admitted Lakewood head coach Mike Ribar, whose team finished the season at 2-8. "It's not that he's overpowering. He's just so agile, and he makes great moves.
"He makes a move and finds the open field. And you can't stop him in the open field," Ribar said. "He's pretty fast, especially once he gets there. We did our best, and we shut him down a bit in the second half.
"We tried to get back into the game, but a couple of things didn't go our way. That's kind of the way it's been all year. We fell just a little bit short," he said.
That Ranger drive at the end of the first quarter did just that.
Lakewood, starting with good field position at its own 48-yard line, moved up field behind the rushing efforts of Michael Johnston. The senior workhorse churned out 17 yards to get the drive started, and a North Ridgeville pass interference call gave the Rangers a shot at the 25.
A Peyton Graham to Michael Goolsby pass on fourth down and one kept the drive alive with less than 20 seconds left. A 10-yard pass play to John Artino got the Rangers down to the 5-yard line with nine ticks left. The home team called time-out, giving the Rangers two more shots at the end zone.
But Graham's first attempt fell incomplete, and his second was never thrown as he slipped making a cut on the wet field to bring the first half to an end.
"That was huge," said Ribar of his team's failure to reach the end zone. "We score there, and the momentum shift would have been gigantic. Instead, it takes away from our momentum a bit. Plus, we were going to get the ball to start the second half.
"It just changed the whole dynamic of the game. Then to start the second half, we went three and out, and he breaks one," he said.
After that three-and-out, North Ridgeville took over at its own 25. On the very first play from scrimmage, McCall busted out with a 22-yard gainer that got North Ridgeville into Lakewood territory.
Three plays later, senior Jonah Bowden ran off right tackle for an 8-yard scoring run to make it 38-17 with 8:59 still left to play in the third quarter. Bowden, who also had a 47-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, racked up 148 yards on the night to give North Ridgeville a strong one-two punch.
Down 38-17, the Rangers continued to fight back as they drove all the way down to the North Ridgeville 19-yard line. But an illegal procedure call and a McCall interception of a Graham pass ended that threat.
Lakewood, however, still had some life left. The defense held, and Graham led the Rangers on a 43-yard scoring drive that was sparked by Goolsby's 30-yard run. Graham found the junior back on a 7-yard scoring toss, Kyle Moran added the conversion kick and the Rangers were within shouting range at 38-23 with 2:37 left in the third.
The Rangers would recover the onside kick, and Moran struck again six plays later with a 29-yard field goal to make it 38-26. But North Ridgeville, behind the running of McCall, would chew up nearly nine minutes of game clock on its next possession to put the game away.
For good measure, McCall would score one more time, this coming from 37 yards out with 2:15 left in the game. It was his 38th touchdown of the season.
For Lakewood, Johnston closed out his career with a 201-yard effort on 22 carries, including his 5-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. Sophomore Quentin Palmer chipped in with 77 yards on seven carries, including a 38-yard scoring run with 4:12 left in the first half.
"We ran the ball at them like we have all year," Ribar said.
"We knew we were going to be able to do that. I'm sure Michael had around 200 yards tonight," he continued. "I thought Peyton played a good game at quarterback. He hit the open guys and threw it away when he had to.
"But giving up 45 points? That's not our style, and we know that. We score 26, and we should be in the game," he added.
Looking back at his first season as head coach, Ribar felt the schedule proved to be a bit tougher than he first expected. Of the Rangers' eight losses, five of them were to teams that earned playoff berths, and two were to teams that just missed the cut.
Ribar also said the talent level in the WSC was impressive in 2014.
"I'm glad most of them are seniors, except for this guy," Ribar said, nodding over to McCall. "Looking at what teams lost last year, I think people thought this was going to be an easier conference than what it ended up being.
"I think some of these teams surprised people," Ribar said. "Look at Midview coming out and playing the way they did. They're legit. Bay surprised people. We played a lot of teams that are probably going to the playoffs.
We definitely played some tough competition. We played Breckville and North Olmsted, and those weren't easy non-conference games. But we made improvements, and we're going to continue to do that.
"We'll go to work in 30 days and get after it again," he concluded.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this game: