Story and photos by Kent Klodnick
The Rocky River Pirates traveled to top-seeded Toledo Central Catholic Fighting Irish in a first round Division III, Region 8 OHSAA state playoff game.
The Friday night contest was like a giant roller coaster ride with lots of ups and downs as the Irish won, 70-48, after being down twice by 21 points to the Pirates. Rocky River, making its first playoff appearance since 2009, closed out its season at 6-5.
The roller coast ride went like this:
River 7-0; River 14-0; River 21-0; Central 7-21; River 28-7; Central 14-28; Central 21-28; Central 28-28; Central 35-28; River 35-35; Central 42-35; tied at 42-42; Central 49-42; Central 49-48; Central 56-48; Central 63-48.
And finally, 70-48. The Pirates had seven touchdowns with one missed extra point and the Irish had 10 total touchdowns and conversions.
Coming in as the underdogs, the eighth-seeded Pirates couldn't have asked for a better start. Taking the kickoff and starting on their own 35-yard line, quarterback Matt Lowry found Patrick Connors on the second play from scrimmage with a pass over the middle.
That resulted in a 65 yard touchdown completion and a quick 7-0 Pirate lead.
After kicking off, River held Central to a three-and-out-punt and started again on its own 35 yard line. Lowry hit Connors again for a long gainer and capped the drive with a 4-yard pass to junior Evan Nugent to go up 14-0.
Central took their second possession down to River's 10 yard line. were the Irish were stopped. River took over on downs, and five plays later with two minutes left in the first quarter, River was in Central's end zone again. Another long Lowry-to-Connors TD completion of 63 yards had the Pirates leading 21-0.
The River roller coaster started fast downhill, but Central put a bump in the track when Irish sophomore Michael Warren took River's kickoff 93 yards for the quick-answer touchdown. The first quarter ended with River leading 21-7.
In the second quarter, River answered quickly after junior Eric Jones recovered a Central fumble. Four plays later, Lowry ran the ball in for an 11-yard touchdown and a 28-7 lead with 10:40 still left in the half.
Things looked good for the Pirates as Connors intercepted an Irish Marcus Winters' pass with eight minutes left and took it to the River 46 yard line.
Two plays later, however, Lowry fumbled and Central owned the rest of the first half.
The Irish scored 21 points to tie things up heading into the haltime locker rooms. Key plays included: a muffed punt attempt by the Pirates turning the ball over on their own 6-yard line, a Lowry fumble near the 50-yard line and a 53-yard punt return by Central's Joe Dandino with 51 seconds left in the half to knot things up at 28-28.
The third quarter started with back and forth touchdowns between Central and River.
Central started the half with five plays for 65 yards, all on the running of Warren for the 35-28 lead. River matched the score with a multi-play drive finished by a 5-yard Lowry-to-Nugent pass to tie things up with 6:39 left in the quarter.
In less than a minute, Central went ahead again, 42-35, with a 59-yard kickoff return and three rushing plays by Warren. The Irish touchdown was scored by sophomore Tre'Von Wade.
But in just over a minute and 75 yards, Lowry answered with another drive to tie things up again, 42-42.
On their next possession, the Irish took 2:30 and seven rushing plays to go 65 yards for the 48-42 lead. The Pirates, however, answered in a minute with a 73-yard bomb from Lowry to Nugent for the touchdown. Matt Goepfert's extra point effort, though, went wide and River was behind 49-48.
The fourth quarter was all Central Catholic.
Warren scored at the start of the quarter with a 7-yard TD run, (56-48). Following a River punt and 60 seconds later, Wade went 45 yards in four plays and another Central touchdown to make it 63-48. The Irish finished their scoring with 2:10 left in the game with an 18-yard scoring run by Wade.
Following another River turnover, Central ran out the clock to bring the ride to a stop.
In the second half, Central never attempted a pass. River senior Steve Pappadakes, playing with a big right hand cast protecting his broken hand was making big stops in the first half but was keyed on by the Irish in the second half.
Two-way player, center and defensive tackle, senior Cam Kysela went down in the third quarter. The Irish made the most of this in their running game as Wade finished with 192 yards rushing and five touchdowns, while and Warren rushed for 265 yards and four touchdowns.
Early on for the Pirates, Connors had 196 yards receiving with two touchdowns and Nugent had 152 yards and three touchdowns. Lowry rushed for River's other two scores with 18 yards rushing and 413 yards passing.
But River's turnovers, one interception and two fumbles, combined with its punting and kick coverage issues, made it too difficult to overcome the rushing strength of the Irish.
Toledo Central Catholic, now 9-2 on the season, will play Bowling Green in the regional semifinals Friday, Nov. 14.
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Click on the camera below to view Kent's photos from this game: