NORTH RIDGEVILLE - With the weather and field conditions the way they were Friday night, it was natural to assume a miscue by one team would cost it the game.
But that fateful mistake never came in 48 minutes.
So Elyria Catholic and North Ridgeville needed overtime to decide things. In the extra session, a fumble turned fantastic and the Rangers prevailed for a 7-0 win.
"You have to go with what Mother Nature provides," said Elyria Catholic's Joe Dempsey, who missed the last two games with a knee injury. "Both teams played as hard as they could."
Elyria Catholic (2-4, 0-2 West Shore Conference) won the coin toss for overtime and elected to go on defense. Starting at the Panthers 20-yard line, the Rangers
(5-1, 1-1 WSC) took to the air on the first play as quarterback P.J. Bunevich tried to hit Josh Hudson in the end zone, drawing pass interference and a first down at the 10.
The Panthers defense stiffened and stopped North Ridgeville at the 1-yard line on third down. On fourth-and-1, fullback Paul Sonego fumbled into the end zone, where tight end Matt Dawson fell on it for the touchdown.
"We stuffed the kid on fourth-and-1 at the goal line and the ball just fell into the end zone," Panthers coach Mike Polevacik said. "It was just a bad break, but don't get me wrong, North Ridgeville earned it."
"When Paul fumbled the ball ended up under me," Dawson said. "It was under my knees. I grabbed it and just huddled over it."
David Bowden kicked the all-important extra point, and the Rangers were left to try to hang on.
"It was just a heartbreaker," Polevacik said. "North Ridgeville played their rear-ends off and so did our team. It was two great teams going after it. I just feel bad for my guys, but you have to feel good for North Ridgeville.
"You just knew someone was going to leave here unhappy."
When Elyria Catholic got its chance in overtime, the Rangers stopped them for minus-2 yards on the first two plays. The Panthers went to the air, and both attempts were broken up. Bunevich knocked down the last pass in the end zone.
"Defensively we stuck together," Dawson said. "We didn't give up any points. That's how defenses should be."
Even though there were four lost fumbles and three more that the offense recovered, neither team could take advantage in regulation. Both defenses were outstanding - the conditions probably helped - as the Panthers could muster only 130 yards of offense while North Ridgeville totaled 103.
"I think two good teams played tonight," North Ridgeville coach Jeff Riesen said. "I have a lot of respect for the way Elyria Catholic came out and played. I'm not surprised by it. They have a lot of tradition.
"I know right now they've been struggling, but for Dempsey to come back, he's a winner. I think the difference in the first half was the way he fought for the extra yards. Defensively, though, I thought we did the right thing. We kept them out."
Two Rangers sophomores saw a lot of action for the first time at the varsity level. C.J. Osborne took over the running duties halfway through the second quarter and Jacob Ruoff started at middle linebacker in place of David Riley, who was unavailable.
For both it was exciting to get so much playing time.
"It was a lot of fun," Ruoff said. "It was something new. I never got used to the varsity level, but today I really got into it and really loved it. The game is a lot faster and it took me a few plays to get used to it."
A STINKER: Apparently a skunk decided to add a little aroma to the bleachers on the Elyria Catholic side as it sprayed the area. It wasn't as bad as some people made it out to be, but everyone got a whiff of it.
Contact Ron Nenadal at 329-7135 or ctsports @ chroniclet.com.