ELYRIA — Elyria Catholic did everything it could to give itself a shot at the postseason Friday night.
Sophomore running back Justin Taylor ran for 177 yards and two touchdowns and the Panthers defense never allowed Lakewood to get past the Elyria Catholic 37-yard line in a 21-0 victory.
“I think we were able to win the battle of the trenches on both sides,” Panthers coach Mike Polevacik said. “That got Justin going early, we shut them down early and by the time it got to a slopfest, we already had enough points in the bank to grind it out.”
Taylor put the Panthers on the scoreboard during their first possession when he spun out of three tackles in the middle of the field, stumbled but managed to stay on his feet and sprinted 56 yards for a touchdown.
Taylor made it 14-0 early in the second quarter when he broke through the left side of the line, cut back to the right and ran untouched for a 12-yard score. Taylor’s 59-yard run to the Lakewood 1-yard line set up Will Washington’s touchdown run on the Panthers’ first possession of the second half.
“He’s special and he’s got some great balance,” Polevacik said of Taylor. “The O-line really works on securing the first level and then getting to the second level. We talk about it … if we can get Justin to the second level, then nobody can touch him.”
Taylor put together the performance on just 15 carries — 11.8 yards per carry — which was even more impressive because the teams combined for 14 fumbles and jersey numbers were unreadable in the second half as players slipped and slid through the mud throughout the game.
“I can play on this, it’s not hard,” Taylor said of the field. “We’re used to practicing on it, so it’s basically like practice. But, yeah, it did get a lot worse as the game went on.”
It was a battle of sophomore running backs, as Lakewood’s Casimier Mitchell Jr. also eclipsed the 100-yard mark — sparked by runs of 29 and 30 yards in the first half. The Rangers were also able to boast a passing attack, as Tommy Fuller’s 5-yard pass to Anthony Ferrone was the only reception in the game.
“We wanted to make sure we got that shutout,” said senior linebacker Nick Kaszar, who had a sack and a fumble recovery. “(The muddy field) made it a lot easier for us. It made them one-dimensional at times, which really helped us out a lot.”
The final whistle blew and then the real work began for Elyria Catholic’s coaching staff.
“We’re going to go get on our computers, watch ‘Friday Night Touchdown’ and say some prayers,” Polevacik said. “Whatever happens, it’s out of our hands. But 6-4 sounds a lot better than 5-5. I’m just really happy.”
ERRING IT OUT: The teams combined to throw just eight passes in the game, and three of them were intercepted. Elyria Catholic’s Conner Riddell’s first two passes were picked off — the first was a Hail Mary at the end of the first half — and Panthers defensive back Jacob Moore picked off a Fuller pass in the fourth quarter. Two Riddell pass attempts were wiped out due to ineligible receiver penalties.
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