PEMBERVILLE — Elyria Catholic’s players knew they were in for a stiff test Saturday night against first-round Division IV playoff opponent Pemberville Eastwood, the region’s top-seeded team.
What the eighth-seeded Panthers probably weren’t counting on was having to play against themselves as well.
Needing to produce nearly a mistake-free game against the Eagles, Elyria Catholic was decidedly imperfect in a 42-27 loss at Eastwood’s Freedom Field.
The Panthers were penalized 10 times for 109 yards, with many of the infractions coming in key situations (one costing them a touchdown). They also turned the ball over twice, once on a fumble that led to Eastwood’s final first-half score, which gave the Eagles a 21-7 advantage at intermission.
“Penalties are always a factor, and certainly, that turnover in the first half was a factor,” said first-year coach Ben Malbasa. “But mistakes don’t kill you. It’s what you do the play after.
“In my mind, we deserved better. We could’ve been in a better situation.”
Elyria Catholic (8-3) had little trouble moving the ball, amassing 468 yards in total offense, with senior quarterback Cody Schuster accounting for the majority of it by throwing for a whopping 453 yards and all four of EC’s touchdowns.
But a first half filled with mistakes and penalties set the tone for the Panthers, who were never able to climb out of the hole they dug for themselves through the game’s first 24 minutes.
Elyria Catholic was flagged five times for 60 yards in the first half. Several big plays were negated by penalties, with the infractions starting early to stall a promising opening drive.
With the Panthers in Eastwood territory, a first-down pass play from Schuster to Jayson Graham was nullified by two EC penalties that ultimately gave the ball back to the Eagles, who scored two plays into their opening possession.
After tying the game at 7, the Panthers stopped Eastwood on a third-down incompletion, but a defensive holding penalty kept the drive alive, with the Eagles scoring to go up 14-7.
EC also had a big pass play negated by a block in the back in the first half and had a touchdown called back when Pat Flanagan was called for pushing off to separate from the defender on a 49-yard reception that would have left the Panthers trailing 21-14 at the half.
The negative theme for Elyria Catholic continued in the second half, where a handful of unsportsmanlike conduct calls tainted an otherwise valiant comeback effort by the Panthers, who played until the final gun.
Down 28-14 and driving late in the third quarter, Schuster hit Richie Baker on a pass that would have moved the ball to the Eagles’ 32-yard line. But the play was negated by a block in the back. The Panthers did not score, with Eastwood extending its lead to 35-14.
Eastwood was able to avoid the penalty plague that hit EC, getting flagged just twice for 10 yards.
“Some of the calls were questionable,” Schuster said. “But we can’t blame the loss on the refs. They made the plays. We made some plays, but they won the game.”
“We lost our composure (at the end), but that’s my fault,” Malbasa said. “I probably lost my composure as well.
“We played a lot of good football. The way we played all the way until the end showed that.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.