LOUISVILLE — Elyria Catholic learned the hard way Friday night that it takes a total team effort to win.
Junior quarterback Jake Kuchta’s 394-yard, four-touchdown effort wasn’t enough as the defense allowed 504 yards in a 56-49 non-league loss at St. Thomas Aquinas.
The Knights showed how they went deep into the Division VI playoffs last season as senior quarterback Anthony Moeglin rushed for 273 yards and five touchdowns in a wild, back-and-forth game that took almost 3ﾽ hours to complete.
“We’re a young team but that’s not an excuse,” Kuchta said. “It’s tough to be in a shootout like that and be on the losing end. St. Thomas Aquinas is a good team. We can either learn from this game or allow it to hurt us all season. I think we understand what we have to do to improve.”
The Knights scored on their first possession, but Kuchta only needed two plays to connect with junior wide receiver Cole Virgin for an 84-yard touchdown. It was the first of four touchdown receptions for Virgin, who was able to run free in the St. Thomas Aquinas defensive backfield all night.
Elyria Catholic pulled ahead 21-14 late in the first quarter on a 2-yard Justin Rankin run and was driving to extend its lead when Kuchta made his only mistake of the night, throwing an interception deep in Knights territory. Four plays later St. Thomas Aquinas tied the game and took back the momentum.
“I was scared for this type of game,” Elyria Catholic Mike Polevacik said. “I was hoping there we would be able to put them away when we were up 21-14 and we had the chance, but I felt like the interception was the pivotal point of the game.”
The Knights held Rankin to 101 yards rushing, but the 5-foot-10, 195-pound senior managed to find the end zone three times. He scored on a 72-yard second-quarter kickoff return and a 55-yard fumble return in the third quarter that tied the game at 35.
“It’s tough with a young team,” Polevacik said. “They have to learn quick and for a lot of our young men it was their first real varsity start.”
The Panthers defense started to show signs of life in the second half, forcing four turnovers. However, Elyria Catholic was only able to turn those turnovers into seven points.
“We have some things to build on after this game,” Kuchta said. “The defense made some nice plays and I was very appreciative of how the passing game came together tonight. But the bottom line, when we get in a game like this we have to be able to win.”
The teams combined for 1,031 yards of offense, to go along with 105 points and 41 first downs.
“There was a beauty in the resilience of our team, they kept fighting and putting up points, and we showed we have some really dynamic players and that was encouraging,” Polevacik said. “That was a great team we played tonight, but we made the mistakes young players make. Sloppy tackling and a couple of mental errors, those are things we have to correct quickly.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.