PARMA — It had all the makings of a trap game for Elyria Catholic on Thursday night at Byers Field.
The Panthers were coming off an emotional win over Bay last Friday and were on a short practice week with some banged-up bodies in preparation for a road game against the Normandy Invaders.
When they opened with a three-and-out, even the most faithful EC fans had to be taking a good-sized gulp.
Fear not Panthers fans.
“How these guys came out in the first quarter really set the tone, and that’s what you look for,” EC coach Brian Fox said.
Elyria Catholic (7-2, 4-1 Great Lakes Conference) took care of business with a 51-14 win over Normandy (3-6, 1-5) to keep its playoff hopes very much alive in Division V’s Region 18. The win moved the Panthers up a spot — from No. 6 to No. 5 — on Thursday night. Fantastic50.net said the win gives EC a 91 percent chance to make the playoff field, and a Week 10 win over Rocky River would clinch a playoff berth and possibly earn the Panthers a home game in the regional quarterfinals.
“Coming in on a short week of practice, having a Thursday game, we were very mentally focused in practice all week,” senior Leighton Banjoff said. “We were able to understand what Normandy did offensively and defensively and we were just able to execute what we prepared.”
Five interceptions and Banjoff’s steady running were keys to EC’s easy win. Banjoff ran for 176 yards and scored three times as the Panthers raced to a 30-0 lead after just one quarter.
But had it not been for Luke Costantino’s interception return of 27 yards to start the ball rolling, who knows what could have happened.
Joshua Miller stuffed Normandy’s fake punt to set up EC’s first score — a 30-yard field goal from Asa Kempton — but the Panthers offense had fizzled on two drives to that point until Costantino provided a huge lift.
From there, the Panthers got on a roll. They stopped Normandy’s next drive and scored in just two plays — passes of 11 and 69 yards from Cameron Engrish to first David Griffin and then to Banjoff in the flat where EC’s leading rusher and scorer darted his way into the end zone.
Banjoff capped the next series with an 8-yard burst on a fourth-and-1 situation to push the lead to 23-0 with 1:34 left in the first quarter.
Jace Drwal picked off Normandy’s next offering, returning it to the Normandy 29. Engrish found Griffin for 30 yards to the 2, where 6-foot-2, 280-pound senior lineman Andrew Dykin bulled his way in to make it 30-0 with 41 seconds to play in the quarter.
“It feels pretty good,” Dykin said of his first career touchdown. “All the senior linemen get to score a touchdown. It was my turn.”
“I love that,” Fox said. “Anytime you can get a big boy celebrating.”
“We didn’t want to give them any hope,” said Banjoff, who made a huge stop on an attempted fourth-and-short by the Invaders on an early key drive. “Being able to put up 30 quick in the first quarter was definitely big. Kind of shut down any kind of momentum they could have gained.”
Banjoff extended the lead to 37-0 with an 89-yard score with 8:02 still to play in the half. Normandy got on the board and added a 2-point conversion to keep the score under the 30-point running-clock scenario. The Invaders were aided by back-to-back interceptions from Engrish and some big offensive plays.
“We saved the coasting for the second quarter,” Fox said. “It got a little ugly right there. We really challenged them to come out with some energy in the second half. Hey, coach (Brian Darden of Normandy) over there is doing a great job. He brought a lot of juice and a lot of heat coming in the second half. Cam (Engrish) and the offensive linemen really responded.”
Jaret Frantz, who caught the winning score against Bay last week, added to his touchdown total to put EC in front 44-8 with 2:12 left in the third quarter and the running clock stayed on for the rest of the game.
Griffin caught a 60-yard score from Engrish to close out the scoring with 59 seconds left in the third.
“It’s been fantastic,” Fox said of EC’s season. “We’ve been talking about it for so long. I know it wasn’t what they wanted last year as a season. These guys are hungry and they have been so excited, so focused. It’s just so nice to see them enjoying the fruits of their labor.”
Elyria Catholic 51, Normandy 14
Elyria Catholic 30 7 14 0 — 51
Normandy 0 8 6 0 — 14
EC — Asa Kempton, 30 field goal
EC — Luke Costantino, 27 interception return (Kempton kick)
EC — Leighton Banjoff, 69 pass from Cameron Engrish (kick blocked)
EC — Banjoff, 8 run (Kempton kick)
EC — Andrew Dykin, 2 run (Kempton kick)
EC — Banjoff, 89 run (Kempton kick)
N — Neno Czerwinski, 2 run (Corey Penney pass from Austin Nahrstedt)
EC — Jaret Frantz, 2 pass from Engrish (Kempton kick)
N — Czerwinski, 12 run (pass failed)
EC — David Griffin, 60 pass from Engrish (Kempton kick)
First downs 14 12
— by rushing 6 3
— by passing 6 7
— by penalty 2 2
Yards rushing 172 60
Yards passing 195 217
Total offense 367 277
Passes att./comp. 20/8 42/15
Intercepted by 5 3
Fumbles/lost 2/0 4/1
Penalties/yards 10/51 6/49
RUSHING — (EC) Leighton Banjoff 14-176, Jace Drwal 1-11, Alex Carandang 3-(-2), Christopher Jackson 2-(-3), Cameron Engrish 2 (-9) Team 1 (-1). (N) Eddie Starks 16-61, Neno Czerwinski 2-7,Justin Haverdill 1-1, Corey Penney 1-0, David Ball 1-0, Austin Nahrstedt 4-(-9).
PASSING — (EC) Engrish 8-19-195-3-3, Carandang 0-1-0-0-0. (N) Narhstedt 15-42-217-0-5.
RECEIVING — (EC) David Griffin 3-101, Banjoff 2-66, Nathan Damron 1-14, Costa Bryan 1-12, Jared Frantz 1-2. (N) Tommy Sullivan 2-48, Corey Penney 4-46, Justin Haverdill 4-46, Andrew Nakhla 1-39, Matt Ashe 1-13, Starks 2-12, Czerwinski 1-3.