Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
As the final seconds ticked off the Byers Field scoreboard clock, Bay's storybook football season came to a close.
But what a season it was.
The Rockets, just 1-9 the previous season, bounced back with one of the program's best showings in school history. Qualifying for the state playoffs for the first time in 21 years and reaching the Division IV, Region 11 title game had the Bay faithful in attendance hopeful for another win.
But on a frigid Friday night in Parma, the Rockets' run came to an end at the hands of tournament-tested Benedictine. The Bengals, making their 19th playoff appearance, shutout the Rockets in the second half on their way to a convincing 35-7 win at Boulton Stadium.
Benedictine, the region's top-seeded team, advanced to the final four and kept its chance of an eighth state championship alive. The Bengals' two-headed running back monster of junior Dontez Rash and senior Jerome Baker proved too much for the Bay defense to handle.
"They're a tough combination to stop for sure," admitted Bay head coach Ron Rutt, whose team closed out the season at 8-5." They come right at you, and they have a good line. Those guys gave them some nice holes to run through."
Unofficially, Rash ran the ball 31 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns, the first of which capped off the game's first drive. Baker, running several times out of the wildcat formation, carried the rock 16 times for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
His first run, a 77-yarder out of the wildcat, went for a touchdown and gave Benedictine a 14-0 lead with 3:34 left in the first quarter.
"Defensively, we tried to throw a few things at them to kind of slow them down," Rutt said.
"They've got a great running attack. They can do some different things as far as putting Baker in the wildcat and the other plays they have. They're just tough to stop. We gave up that one big play in the first half.
"I knew that was going to be a key if we could keep ourselves from giving up the big play. We held them to one, which isn't too bad considering what they've done this year," he said.
Bay, however, was able to get back into the game with a solid second-quarter drive.
The Rockets started at their own 44-yard line and were helped out a bit four plays later on a Bengal pass interference call. Quarterback John Koz had a pair of pass completions to Rex Sunahara and another to Danny Heideloff, while running back Nick Best picked up tough yards in the trenches.
Then with 5:48 left in the half, Best bulled it in from four yards out. Cole Gergye added the conversion kick, and the Rockets were right back in it at 14-7.
Benedictine, which committed 60 yards in penalties in the first half and 80 for the game, went three and out on its final possession of the half. Bay played out the final 3:31 without a score, but looked forward to getting the second half kickoff.
"We felt great at halftime, really," admitted Rutt, whose team had not been shutout in the second half the entire season.
"We felt like we withstood a little bit of a storm there at the start of the game," Rutt said. "We got some momentum back by scoring and getting it back to within seven. And we've been a second-half team all year, so we felt great coming out in the third quarter.
"We just couldn't put things together like we wanted to in the second half. They were quick defensively. They were shooting gaps and causing us problems getting into the lanes," he said.
Bay, taking over at its own 32-yard line to start the half, drove down to the Bengal 39 before a procedure penalty and a 7-yard loss stalled the drive. Benedictine started its first drive of the second half with 39 yards of running from Rash and capped off the drive with a 12-yard pass play from quarterback Brian Schoeffler to Justin Layne in the back of the end zone.
With 3:22 left in the third quarter, the Bengals led, 21-7. They scored again with just under four minutes gone in the fourth quarter, this time on a Baker wildcat run from four yards out.
Bay, on the other hand, couldn't get anything going offensively. Benedictine's defense shut down the Rocket running attack, holding Best to 63 yards on 21 carries and just 23 yards in the second half.
Benedictine's final touchdown came with 40 seconds left in the game as Rash ran a sweep right for six yards and the score.
"Right now, it's tough because you want to keep going," Rutt said. "We thought we had a chance to do that tonight.
"We're just proud of our seniors. They're the ones who engineered this turnaround. Those guys left a legacy and made history for us this year as far as our program is concerned. This is the furthest we've ever been.
"They took us from 1-9 to 8-4, and I think they showed our underclassmen what it takes to get here," he added.
Rutt then took a moment to look ahead toward 2015.
"We've got a lot of skill positions coming back with our underclassmen," Rutt said. "We're losing all of our linemen. We're going to have to get those younger guys ready to go, and we will. And the leadership from that senior class is going to be hard to replace.
"But our younger guys have seen what took as far as how our seniors handled practice very day and the way they went about their business. That's something valuable to learn for these guys," he said.
Rutt also reflected on his first season as head coach and how his squad responded to the change.
"It was a great year, and I'm tremendously proud of our kids," Rutt said.
"We accomplished a lot of our goals. Well really, we accomplished every goal we set at the beginning of the season. We started having to make up goals the last couple weeks, which is a great problem to have.
"You can't beat that," he concluded.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this game: