NORTH ROYALTON — The sweet sounds of pads cracking and bands playing were back Friday night.
The North Royalton Bears looked in midseason form right out of the gate, scoring touchdowns on their first three drives of the season en route to a 42-25 non-conference victory over North Ridgeville.
“These kids are always focused so I wasn’t surprised we came out the way we did,” North Royalton coach Nick Ciulli said. “I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t want to play us.”
Despite giving up 42 points, the North Ridgeville defense put up a solid effort given the high-powered offense it was up against.
The Achilles’ heel for the Rangers was the big play.
North Royalton’s shortest scoring play came from 32 yards, as the Bears scored on a run and pass from that distance. The Bears also had touchdowns of 60 and 70 yards.
“I thought our defense played pretty well tonight but they just big-played us to death,” North Ridgeville coach Luke Durbin said.
North Royalton quarterback Joe Marousek was the architect of all the long plays. The standout junior accounted for five touchdowns, four through the air and one on the ground. He threw touchdown passes of 32, 60 and 34 yards on North Royalton’s first three drives.
“We really wanted to come out ready to go and I was excited to get the ball first,” Marousek said. “We were really in tune and were able to keep it rolling most of the game.”
The Rangers tried to stay within striking distance, coming up with a few long drives of their own.
Their first drive culminated in a 28-yard field goal from Aden Vanover, cutting the deficit to 7-3.
Their next two drives also made it to North Royalton’s side of the field but ended on downs after costly penalties.
“We got up and down the field on them too but we had some drives we just didn’t finish,” Durbin said. “If we finish those drives, it’s a totally different first half.”
North Ridgeville quarterback Matt Steinmetz did his best to keep the Rangers in it.
Down 21-3 in the final minute of the first half, Steinmetz led the Rangers on a 76-yard scoring drive. He capped it with a 17-yard touchdown run, showing excellent burst as he dashed past the second-level defenders.
It briefly cut North Royalton’s lead to 21-10.
“The guys did a great job for us upfront and gave me a lot of time to throw the ball,” Steinmetz said. “We just have to keep working hard and move forward.”
The backbreaking moment of the game came directly after Steinmetz’s score. North Royalton received the ball with just 17 seconds remaining in the half and in two plays was in the end zone once again.
This time Marousek found junior Riley Knurek streaking up the middle for a 32-yard touchdown strike. The score gave the Bears a 28-10 lead and all the momentum.
“We were just really in tune with each other in that first half and the guys made some plays for me,” Marousek said.
North Ridgeville settled down in the second half, playing the Bears evenly. Steinmetz threw his first touchdown pass of the season, connecting with Jeremy Sanchez in the fourth quarter.
It was too little too late by then, however, and North Royalton once again responded with a score to go up 42-18.
Steinmetz finished with 235 passing yards and an interception to go with 77 rushing yards. Cade Riley, who had 47 yards on the Rangers’ opening drive, finished with 98 yards on the ground.