Story by Ryan Kaczmarski
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
The Bay football team has had a remarkable turnaround this season.
After finishing with a record of 1-9 in 2013, the Rockets went 6-4 in the regular season, including an even 3-3 in the West Shore Conference. And on Friday night, they earned the very first playoff victory in school history by beating the Crestwood Red Devils, 18-7, in the OHSAA Division IV, Region 11 quarterfinals at Jack Lambert Stadium.
"I'm tremendously proud of our kids and their effort," Bay first-year head coach Ron Rutt said.
"That's a great team we played tonight. They were 9-1 for a reason, but our kids just came out and battled and kept fighting.
"We just kept playing the next play, and I couldn't be happier for our kids." he said.
The Rockets' defense led the way Friday night. It forced the Red Devils to turn the ball over five times in the game, while adding a key safety in the fourth quarter.
"We really emphasized practicing all aspects of the game, offense, defense and special teams. You never know when that big play is going to come, or what side of the ball it's going to be on," Rutt explained.
"Any play has a chance to be that big turning point."
Bay secured its first turnover on the opening drive of the game. That's when the ball squirted out of Crestwood running back Logan Thut's hands into the open arms of Bay freshman defensive back Trey Moore.
Joe DeBarr had a key fumble recovery early in the second quarter. And with the game tied at 7-7, he hauled in an interception of a Hail Mary pass on what was supposed to be the last play in the first half.
DeBarr returned the interception deep into Red Devil territory and was hit late. That resulted in penalty flags all over the field as a fight broke out and five total penalties were assessed, four of them being on Crestwood.
After all the penalties were walked off, Cole Gergye hit a 26-yard field goal on the free play with no time on the clock to put Bay up 10-7 at the half.
"I really think we were fired up from the start," DeBarr said. "This was our first playoff appearance in 21 years, and we had never had a playoff victory.
"I think all of the kids were fired up to go out there and finally play this game," he said.
Crestwood had its power sweep working well in the first quarter of the game, but the Rockets made the right adjustments. That kept the Red Devils running game in check, and forced them to throw the ball.
"Our coaching staff is really good at making adjustments," DeBarr added. "Our outside linebackers really got to the edge and contained them on the sweep, which really helped us DBs in the back."
The messy field conditions gave the Rockets fits early in the game, as they had an 8-play drive stall and were forced to punt. The Rockets had an 11-play drive stopped in the second quarter and were forced to turn the ball over on downs.
"That one end of the field was really messy, but we were able to get out of there and get moving in the right direction," Rutt said.
Bay junior running back Nick Best was the leader on both sides of the ball. As the Red Devils were driving down the field late in the game, Best intercepted an errant pass from Crestwood quarterback Gabe Surgeon.
On the ensuing drive, Best ran a sweep left 15 yards to paydirt, capping the score at 18-7.
While Best has been electric to watch this year, the Red Devils kept him mostly in check. He was given the ball more than 30 times in the game, but was not very affective until the final scoring drive.
"We got the win, so the stats don't really matter at this point," Best stated. "It was a muddy field, so it was hard to change direction.
"You have to give Crestwood their props, but in the end, the 'W' is up on the scoreboard," he said.
After Crestwood scored the first touchdown of the game, Bay came right back and answered with a 12-play, 65-yard scoring drive. It was capped off by a 1-yard Best touchdown to tie the game, 7-7, with 8:19 left in the first half.
"All those guys on our offensive line make our offense go, and Nick is a workhorse out there," Rutt explained.
"In most wins we've had this season, he has had almost 40 carries. So, it's impressive to watch him out there and play defense, and also be one of our best defensive players, also," he said.
In the fourth quarter, Bay drove all the way down to the Red Devil 3-yard line, but turned over the ball on downs. Then on the second play of the ensuing Crestwood drive, Surgeon was sacked by Bay's Chris Francati in the endzone for a safety.
That put the Rockets up 12-7 with 11:04 left in the game.
"Our senior nose tackle, Matt Beniard, is a beast," Rutt said. "Every game he is double and triple-teamed. He's quick and physical and no one can block him.
"He's in everyone's backfield and really disrupts things. He may not have had the safety, but he was able to allow Francati to burst through for the sack," he added.
The loss ended Crestwood's season at 9-2. The Rockets move on to play Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin next Friday for the chance to move on to the regional finals game.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this game: