It’s easy to dismiss it as only one game. A non-conference game. One measly performance, which, in the grand scheme of a 10-week regular season, isn’t any more important than any other week.
But try telling that to the Keystone Wildcats, the North Ridgeville Rangers and the Oberlin Phoenix, who each shattered burdensome losing streaks by registering Week 1 victories.
Keystone snapped an
11-year run of futility at the hands of longtime season-opening opponent Monroeville by posting a 34-8 win. For a program that hasn’t tasted a winning season since 1985 — that’s right, 22 years — the importance of last Friday’s performance cannot be underestimated.
“It’s huge,” said Keystone coach Rob Clarico. “We know we have a lot of work to do because this is about a long season, not just one game. But it builds confidence and momentum.”
North Ridgeville, which has been a power for the last two years in the West Shore Conference, has, nevertheless, been unable to find an answer to Westlake. But the Rangers solved that 11-year riddle with a 13-7 victory. North Ridgeville hadn’t beaten Westlake since 1996.
“Once you start losing to one opponent over and over and over, it plays on your mind,” said Rangers coach Jeff Riesen. “I’d been at Amherst 12 years, and we had pretty good success against Westlake. It’s just funny how different schools have different ideas about teams. After a while, it becomes something bigger than just another opponent.”
Which helps explain why Saturday’s victory for Oberlin was so special. It wasn’t just one team. It was someone. Anyone. The Phoenix snapped a 37-game on-field losing skid by dispatching Ashtabula Sts. John and Paul 14-8.
According to Oberlin coach Dave McFarland, no one on the roster had ever tasted a varsity victory.
“One thing that it really shows is that all the work you put in pays off,” McFarland said. “It gives them a taste of success early, and maybe it can springboard us toward our next game (tonight against Lutheran East).”
For several teams in the area, a little early success could go a long way.
No Midd-le ground
Perhaps the most impressive team performance to come out of last Friday’s slate was the work of Midview’s defense in a 13-7 victory over Elyria. The Middies, who return seven starters off last year’s unit, allowed 42 yards from scrimmage — 46 of which came through the air from Pioneers quarterback Jon Yeaples.
Midview has a potentially devastating run defense and certainly put on a show against Elyria. The Pioneers were held to minus-4 yards rushing on 22 carries.
Middies coach Bill Albright acknowledged his team’s strong performance, but couldn’t help but temper the accolades. The reason? Midview faces arguably the most dynamic rushing attack in the area tonight in Amherst, led by Brandon Kish.
It will be a telling test.
One of the biggest eye-openers out of Week 1 was the explosiveness of Avon’s offense against a bruising Avon Lake crew. But according to Eagles first-year coach Mike Elder, the differences between the two programs grew quickly apparent by the middle of the second quarter.
It was during that time that Avon Lake’s grinding, physical style began to wear down Avon’s linemen and fullback Mike Haddad, who finished with a staggering 167 yards and three touchdowns, was running through two, and sometimes three, defenders.
“We knew they’re a big, strong team,” said Elder. “And we obviously have some major work to do with regard to our run defense. But the physical thing I can live with. When you have a guy running through you, that’s sheer power and strength. I can handle that better than the mental mistakes. I want our kids reading the offense better and understanding their responsibilities.”
In last week’s preseason football section, in a story written by myself, it was stated that Ben Malbasa, the first-year head coach for the Elyria Catholic Panthers was a standout student and athlete at University School. This is only half true.
Malbasa wasn’t, in fact, an outstanding athlete. According to the 29-year-old coach, he was quite average. Malbasa played football as a freshman and suffered a significant shoulder injury, which never fully healed. He played through his junior year, but sat out as a senior, instead serving as a team manager. And in basketball, he never once made the varsity team.
“In some ways I try to push the middle-of-the-road athletes more,” said Malbasa. “I sometimes wish I had someone who tried to motivate me toward weight training. It probably would have made for a better football experience. But I try to push these kids to appreciate it — especially the ones that aren’t the stars. They can make a contribution, too.”
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or at email@example.com.