The Lorain County Nightmares didn’t even have a full roster yet when first-year coach Terry Murray set his goals for the season: go undefeated in the Ohio Football League’s Cardinal Conference and qualify for the playoffs.
Done and done.
The first-year semipro football team did just what Murray envisioned, going 10-0 in conference play (10-2 overall) and clinching a top seed in the upcoming OFL playoffs.
The Nightmares open the postseason today at 5:30 p.m. against the Strabane (Pa.) Spartans at Midview High School’s Ross Field.
“I’m a firm believer that you can’t have a vision without having a goal,” said Murray, who has been a football coach in Lorain County for 28 years, but is in his first year coaching semipro ball. “We felt we had some pretty good talent here, especially since we were signing players from all of Lorain County and not just from Lorain or Elyria. We felt going unbeaten and qualifying for the playoffs would be a goal to have to start the season. I didn’t know how realistic it was, but it was a goal.
“As we got going, we saw that we had a special group of guys here and, as the season grew, we just got better. We had a dream, and it’s now become a Nightmare, and I mean that in the most loving way. They are living the dream right now.”
And the Nightmares have visions of a championship dancing in their heads.
“Yeah, that’s what our dream was and that’s what we strived for all the time,” said Midview grad Troy Davila, a starting tight end. “Now we’re 10-0, but we’re 0-0 going into the playoffs. We’re not thinking about the regular season right now, just focusing on the team ahead of us and seeing how far we can take this thing.
“The mantra that we push a lot is that we’re trying to bring something back to this community. We want to win a championship for this community, not just for this organization. This is our way to show that we care about this community and we’re proud.”
The Nightmares were founded and are co-owned by Elyria graduates Shawn Hazelwood and Vaughn Sprinkle and North Ridgeville grad Mitch Tulk. Hazelwood and Tulk also play for the team, while Sprinkle is an assistant defensive coach.
“They had a dream that something like this could happen,” Murray said. “They felt something like this was needed in Lorain County, not just for the athletes that came from here, but for the fans of football. I don’t think I fully grasped what we were doing until that first tryout and I saw players from Midview, Avon, Brookside, Avon Lake and all over the county, wanting to be a part of this.
“Our players have bought into this and our fans have bought into it as well, but I think we’re still a secret around here because we’re new. Hopefully, going 10-0 and winning like we have and reaching the playoffs lets others in on our little secret.”
Led by former EC star quarterback Cody Schuster, the Nightmares average 26.6 points per game and have outscored their opponents 319-131. They’ve scored more than 40 points five times, including last week’s 55-28 win over the Cleveland Saints to wrap up the perfect league mark.
Defensively, the Nightmares have shut out their opponents four times, including their first three conference games. Their closest games were a 14-12 win over the Saints on June 9 and a 13-12 win over the Midwest Rams on July 20.
“The Nightmares philosophy is to install fear into every single opponent,” said tight end Adam Herbert, an Amherst grad. “Fear is a word we toss around a lot. We want to install a fearful mindset into our opponents.”
While no one’s going to get rich playing semipro football, the love of the game and the desire to keep playing has brought these guys to the Nightmares, and they’ve all bought into the quest for the championship.
“There’s been some practices where not that many people turn out, but next one, there’s 100 percent turnout,” Davila said. “We know what’s in our grasp and what we can get to. When we won our last game to go 10-0, we could smell the championship. It’s right there. Players are calling off work to play the game they love. It helps to call off work when you’re in a hunt for a championship, that’s for sure.”
With most of the players having only a smattering of playoff experience from their high school and collegiate days, they’re relishing the chance to play for a title.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Davila said. “When you graduate from high school and college, you don’t think you’re going to play football ever again. There’s not many Lorain County teams that have won a state football title.
“I’ve never been on an undefeated football team, and I’ve never played in a championship game. I graduated in 2005 and for me to go out and show I still have it, it’s amazing. We want this ride to last as long as it can.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Nightmares vs. Spartans
WHAT: First-round playoff game
WHERE: Ross Field, Midview High School
TICKETS: $6 adults, $3 ages 7-12, free 6 and under.