Two communities sharing one city’s borders came together for the final time Friday night to see Elyria vs. Elyria Catholic football.
While the product on the field had its ups and downs during the “Battle of Elyria,” the excitement surrounding the game maintained its fever pitch since the inaugural game in 2010 was announced.
“I’ve only been here three years for the rivalry, but to hear these kids talk about it, and the alumni talk about it, and hear the seniors that just left talk about it … it’s one of the amazing things to be a part of in the city of Elyria,” EC junior running back Justin Rankin said. “I wish a lot of people could experience what we just experienced. Even though it was a loss, it was still a great experience to go through. We went out with a bang, and I’ll always remember what happened out on this field.”
The memories of Rankin’s performance Friday night won’t fade soon. He returned a first-quarter kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown, then returned a second-quarter punt 46 yards for another score.
Rankin’s heroics were neutralized by the jaw-dropping numbers Elyria senior Jumarr Lewis put together. Lewis rushed 20 times for 261 yards and three touchdowns — including a 99-yarder in the fourth quarter — and added an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the play after Rankin’s first-quarter score.
“It was about who wanted it the most,” Lewis said. “I came out and returned one, he came out and returned one. It was just a competition that we had to keep our heads in.
“That’s my boy. He reminds me of myself … leading his team like he’s supposed to. I give much credit to him, he’s doing his thing for Elyria Catholic and leading his team and getting his name out there.”
The scoreboard read Elyria 48, Elyria Catholic 33 when time ran out, but every person who purchased a ticket for the final installment could count themselves among the winners.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see a game with more big plays than you saw here tonight,” Pioneers coach Kevin Fell said. “I don’t know if that’s just the way things go, but they made great plays and we made great plays, and both teams were really tired at the end of that game.”
Adding to the running backs’ impressive plays, Elyria scored on a 95-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Parsh to Jordan Connell, and Elyria Catholic’s fourth-quarter touchdown came on a 90-yard interception return by Jake Jagielski.
But in the end, Elyria made more plays than Elyria Catholic, which has been the way the rivalry has gone for the past three years. Even in the Panthers’ lone win in 2010, the Pioneers stuck around for most of the game with a handful of younger, inexperienced players who were facing one of the best Panthers teams in decades.
The disparity in enrollment — Elyria is a Division I team, while EC sits in Division V — was too much to overlook, as the Pioneers didn’t gain enough playoff points by beating a small school and the Panthers seemed to need a super-team to earn a win.
Despite the obvious issues with the rivalry, both sides enjoyed the four-year run.
“I saw the first game on TV and I’ve been involved in the last three,” Fell said. “It’s been a wonderful rivalry. It’s been a friendly rivalry. Our kids know their kids, and at the end of that game everyone was talking to each other. There wasn’t any hard feelings by either team … and I felt real honored to be a part of it.”
Proving his point, Rankin and Lewis embraced and chatted for a few moments, and Panthers quarterback Jeremy Holley spent some time with several Pioneers.
“We want to get after each other, we want to beat each other, but in the end, we both respect each other,” Panthers coach Mike Polevacik said. “Kevin and I respect each other. He came and said some things to my guys — Holley and (lineman Dakota)Tallman — and I shook hands with Connell and (linebacker Connor) Kamcyzc.
“People think we hate each other, but this is what’s great about high school football. These kids went after each other, they played a great game and then everybody hugged afterwards.”
Polevacik was an assistant coach for EC during the Panthers’ win in the inaugural game, but couldn’t get a win against the Pioneers after taking over the program. He felt a win this season might have bolstered the hopes for the series’ quick return.
“I hate that it was 3-1,” he said. “I thought if we could win tonight we could keep a buzz about this series, and maybe in a year or two we could see where we shake out in our new conference and maybe it’ll make sense for us to play it again. But right now in the West Shore, it doesn’t make sense to schedule up like this for non-conference.”
It doesn’t make football sense, but sometimes the emotions surrounding a rivalry like this make it easy to ignore the on-field problems.
“I’m really sad to see it end, I wish it would go on,” Rankin said. “We showed the city of Elyria that we can still hang with (the Pioneers).”
The teams showed the city of Elyria a lot more than that.
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7317 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @ShaunBennettct on Twitter.