NORTH ROYALTON — Elyria coach Kevin Fell doesn’t like reruns — especially the kind with a bitter ending.
But for the second time in two weeks, Fell and his Pioneers saw a scant lead disappear in the final minute as Elyria lost to North Royalton 37-34.
“We needed to keep the ball and we didn’t keep it,” Fell said. “It’s that simple. We had the ball, four-point lead and we didn’t get a first down. That’s when we got beat.”
Elyria is 5-2 overall and 1-1 in the Northeast Ohio Conference River Division. The Bears are 3-4, 1-1.
Just like a week ago at Brunswick, Elyria looked ready to put away the game. The Pioneers had the ball on their 15-yard line and merely needed to run out the final 3:57 to pull out the win. A 26-yard field goal off the foot of sophomore Josh Lewis had put Elyria in front 34-30 with 6:55 left, and the defense forced North Royalton to punt from midfield.
Jordan Connell, who did everything in his power to bring home a victory, ran 14 yards to the 29 for a first down. But three plays and a personal foul later, he punted the ball from his 31-yard line to give the Bears one last chance with the ball on their 37.
All Elyria had to do was control North Royalton’s offense, which sputtered at times but made plays when needed.
“We don’t have things in control,” Fell said. “Not the way we’re playing defense.”
The Bears got 26 yards on a first-down pass to put the ball at Elyria’s 37, then converted a fourth down from the 33 with 40 seconds left.
After spiking the ball and throwing an incompletion, quarterback Jack Marousek found his favorite target open in the middle of the secondary, and Mario Guinn avoided a couple of tackles to get the score with 28 seconds to play. Last week at Brunswick, the winner came with 52 ticks left.
“The kids never quit,” said North Royalton coach Nick Ciulli, whose team lost in the final seconds last week against Twinsburg. “We pulled together this week, especially after that tight loss last week. We’ve been battling the injury bug like everybody else. We found a way to pull it out.”
“We knew exactly what they were going to do and we still didn’t stop the play,” Fell said.
Elyria could’ve had a nice cushion in the first half. Leading 19-6, the Pioneers had the ball inside North Royalton’s 10-yard line. But an interception by Collin Wiley at the goal line turned things around for the Bears, who scored 17 unanswered points to end the half.
Connell, who finished with 144 yards on the ground and three touchdowns, had two key kick returns in the first half to set up scoring opportunities. He returned the opening kickoff 55 yards to the 31-yard line to set up Elyria’s first score and brought the second one back 63 yards to the 20 after the Bears had tied the game. North Royalton squibbed every subsequent kickoff, recovering one to set up a field goal as time expired in the first half.
Hunter Parsh, who was picked off twice, completed 13 of 23 passes for 170 yards and a 35-yard score to Tavon Kurtz.
“We can’t keep trying to outscore people,” Fell said. “We’ve got to find a way to stop people. We’re going to find it one way or another.”
THINK PINK: Elyria’s cheerleaders were decked out in pink as a tribute to Breast Cancer Awareness month.