BELLEVUE — The Elyria Catholic football team has used the phrase “Wake up the Echoes” as a rallying cry this season. It was a well-chosen slogan as the Panthers’ postseason performance is one that will reverberate through the EC community for years to come.
A week after a stunning last-minute victory over Anna in the regional quarterfinals, Elyria Catholic went toe-to-toe with unbeaten and top-seeded Genoa Area before falling 42-41 Saturday night in the Division V regional semifinals.
It was a hard loss to swallow for the Panthers as senior running back Leighton Banjoff rushed for 168 yards and five touchdowns and senior quarterback Cameron Engrish threw for 320 yards and a score. It was the balanced offensive attack EC has used all season to knock off some of the toughest teams in Northeast Ohio.
“It’s fun to watch,” EC coach Brian Fox said. “That’s the craziest thing. These kids work so well together. Between Leighton pounding the ball, the big offensive line, the incredibly talented receivers … Cam Engrish, I can’t say enough about him.
“They were bringing the heat left and right, they were trying to get after him, and he handled it. He stepped up into the pressure and delivered time after time.”
Elyria Catholic (9-3) wasted no time taking the lead as Engrish found David Griffin wide open downfield for a 63-yard touchdown less than a minute into the game.
After Genoa answered with a pair of touchdowns, Banjoff scored on a 5-yard run to tie the game at 14 after one quarter.
Genoa scored quickly in the second quarter, but after it missed the extra-point attempt the Panthers took a 21-20 lead on Banjoff’s second touchdown run.
Genoa regained the lead on a 69-yard pass from Jacob Plantz to Ray Gomez, but Banjoff scored two more touchdowns to make it 35-26 at the half.
“That’s when football is fun,” Fox said. “The punch, counterpunch … it’s like when you watch a boxing match and you don’t want to see one dude just dominate or both of them dancing around. I love the punching back and forth, it was so much fun.”
The third quarter was less enjoyable for the Panthers, as Genoa scored a pair of touchdowns, then added a Jacob Stewart field goal to take a 42-35 lead.
Engrish was intercepted on the next drive, but Connor Trockley answered with an interception of Plantz. This time, the Panthers marched down the field and Banjoff capped a quick drive with a 33-yard touchdown run.
Then the unthinkable happened, as senior kicker Asa Kempton pushed the extra-point attempt wide right.
“I’m not completely sure what happened,” Fox said. “Asa’s a special kid, I have nothing but faith in him and I still do. We talked about going for two, it was very difficult. It doesn’t always work out. It’s a gamble.”
Needing a defensive stop, the Panthers held Genoa to a three-and-out, then began dissecting the Comets defense again. Engrish completed a pair of passes and Banjoff ripped off a pair of nice runs, but the bottom dropped out when Plantz — the Comets’ free safety — stepped in front of Engrish’s pass in the red zone and came down with the interception with less than a minute to play.
“Throughout the season we fought through everything, we battled through adversity and I think that really helped us in being able to stick with it all the way to the last seconds,” Banjoff said.
“That was a heck of a football game between two really good football teams that battled to the very end,” Genoa coach Paul Patterson said. “They took our punches, we took their punches and it was back and forth. We came out and started the second half the right way and just finished the job. Our guys just stepped up and made plays when they had to.”
Banjoff — who is featured heavily in an offensive scheme the Panthers call “The Juggernaut” — was balanced by Genoa’s own battering ram of a running back. Daniel Novotney — a 5-foot-11, 230-pound junior — pounded through the EC defensive line over and over, finishing with 130 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“He was hard to deal with, he ran hard,” said Banjoff, who also plays linebacker. “We could tell he kind of got tired out a little bit, taking on hit after hit.”
That’s when Plantz — at 6-3 and 205 pounds — took over. Plantz ran for 70 yards and a touchdown, and threw for 185 yards and three scores.
“They had an incredible offense and they kept us off the field,” Fox said. “It’s hard to stop when you’ve got a 250-pound fullback coming down hill and a giant quarterback right behind him who’s an athlete.”
The loss ended EC’s best season in nearly a decade. A playoff berth, home playoff game and a Great Lakes Conference championship are just some of the accomplishments that made it a special season for the Panthers’ large senior class.
“The biggest thing you get is a group that starts to believe in themselves and hopefully believe in us coaches a little bit. But what made this thing roll was the special kids,” Fox said. “It was an amazing ride and I’m so excited about the kids that we have coming back, but I’ve been saying week after week that I want another opportunity to spend some time with these seniors, because they are among some of the most special kids I’ve ever seen.”
Genoa Area 42, Elyria Catholic 41
Elyria Catholic 14 21 0 6 — 41
Genoa Area 14 12 13 3 — 42
EC — David Griffin, 63 pass from Cameron Engrish (Asa Kempton kick)
GA — Ray Gomez, 19 pass from Jacob Plantz (Jacob Stewart kick)
GA — Daniel Novotney, 1 run (Stewart kick)
EC — Leighton Banjoff, 5 run (Kempton kick)
GA — Andrew Bench, 44 pass from Plantz (kick failed)
EC — Banjoff, 6 run (Kempton kick)
GA — Gomez, 69 pass from Plantz (kick blocked)
EC — Banjoff, 2 run (Kempton kick)
EC — Banjoff, 3 run (Kempton kick)
GA — Novotney, 1 run (pass intercepted)
GA — Plantz, 1 run (Stewart kick)
GA — Stewart, 30 field goal
EC — Banjoff, 33 run (kick failed)
First downs 18 20
— by rushing 7 14
— by passing 10 6
— by penalty 1 0
Yards rushing 110 223
Yards passing 320 185
Total offense 430 408
Passes att./comp. 22/13 12/6
Intercepted by 2 2
Fumbles/lost 2/1 1/1
Penalties/yards 5/35 4/45
RUSHING — (EC) Leighton Banjoff 32-168, David Griffin 1-2, Asa Kempton 1-(-19), Cameron Engrish 3-(-41). (GA) Daniel Novotney 30-130, Jacob Plantz 14-70, Ray Gomez 5-20, Jacob Bradfield 1-3.
PASSING — (EC) Engrish 13-22-320-1-2. (GA) Plantz 6-12-185-3-2.
RECEIVING — (EC) D. Griffin 6-142, Connor Trockley 2-49, Gavan Hrobat 2-30, Jaret Frantz 2-27, Banjoff 1-72. (GA) Gomez 2-88, Andrew Bench 2-63, Nathan Lewis 2-34.
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