EATON TWP. — The playoff debut of the Lorain County Nightmares semipro football team Sunday couldn’t have gone much better.
The defense was dominant, holding the visiting Strabane (Pa.) Spartans to minus-16 yards rushing, forcing six turnovers — returning one for a score — and sacking the quarterback 10 times.
The offense, led by Elyria Catholic grad Cody Schuster, was powerful. Schuster had a hand in four of his team’s five offensive touchdowns and threw for 221 yards.
The result was a one-sided 42-14 victory for the 11-0 Nightmares at Midview High School’s Ross Field, propelling the first-year franchise into the Ohio Football League semifinals.
“We didn’t know what to expect out of (the Spartans),” Nightmares coach Terry Murray said. “We had a little bit of film, but being from Pennsylvania and on the other side of the conference, we didn’t know what they had to show us. So our guys were just really hyped up. They believed in themselves. They believed they could get the job done against just about whoever we’ve played.”
Lorain County will host the Greensburg (Pa.) Panthers next Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at Ross Field with a berth in the OFL championship game on the line. The Ohio Golden Knights and the Butler County Bears will meet in the other semifinal.
“This means a lot because we had a lot of individuals put in a lot of work with this team — tons and tons of volunteers — and for it to all come together and for Lorain County to support us like this is definitely a great feeling,” said Nightmares co-owner Sonny Hazelwood (Elyria), who was part of the dominating defensive line — along with Mitch Tulk (Elyria) and Steve Fejedlem — that helped account for those 10 sacks and six turnovers. “More so than the victory itself, I was very pleased with the support we’re receiving from Lorain County itself, and we’re looking forward to keeping this going as long as we can.”
The Nightmares set the tone with their opening drive of the game. Schuster, who tried to go deep on the first play, led a seven-play, 68-yard drive. It was capped when Schuster found a wide-open Michael Mealing (Oberlin) on a slant for a 5-yard touchdown.
Two possessions later, Schuster and the Nightmares went right back to work. Taking over on downs after the defense forced the Spartans (6-5) to go 14 yards backward on three plays, the Nightmares drove 73 yards on six plays. A 14-yard scramble by Schuster set up a 10-yard scoring toss to tight end Adam Herbert (Amherst) to increase Lorain County’s lead to 14-0.
After a 43-yard bomb to Ricky Earl (Clearview), Schuster scrambled in from 9 yards out. He found Herbert for a 2-point conversion pass to make it a 22-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“We took two weeks to prepare for this game, but we honestly didn’t know much about them,” said Schuster, who completed 14 of 21 passes for two scores and 221 yards, finding five receivers in the process. “We just figured if we come out and do what we do best, we’d be fine.”
When Juan Cotto (Lorain) scooped up a loose ball following a sack by Hazelwood and ran untouched for a 62-yard touchdown just five plays into the second half, it appeared it was all she wrote. But the Spartans had other plans.
“It was a good time out there,” said cornerback Nick Rogerson (North Ridgeville), who accounted for a lot of the sacks coming from outside blitzes. “Our coaches put in a new defensive package featuring corner blitzes, and we noticed on the film that they didn’t have a receiver to the outside, so they turned me loose. It was a lot of fun.”
With 4:40 left in the third, Marquis Brown fielded a punt and weaved through the Nightmares coverage untouched for a 55-yard touchdown return. Then, with 11:46 remaining, Brown took a pitch to the right and heaved a deep ball for a wide-open Ramont Barfield, who caught it for a 66-yard touchdown to suddenly cut Lorain County’s lead to 28-14.
“We put on a good performance in the first quarter-and-a-half, but then we slowed down a little bit,” Murray said. “The lesson we take away from today’s game is that this is the playoffs. Those guys aren’t going to come here this far and lay down for us after travelling all that way. Once we got back in the mindset we had to start the game, we kicked it into high gear.”
Taking 5:18 off the clock, the Nightmares marched 60 yards in nine plays on their ensuing possession. Schuster found Herbert three times for 43 yards, which set up his own 2-yard touchdown sneak to put the game back in their control.
“I think we just got lackadaisical, honestly,” Schuster said. “As a captain and a leader, I’ve got to do a better job of making sure we don’t fall into that trap. Our running game was fine, but I think it got us out of a rhythm offensively. But our O-line did a great job, our receivers made plays and our running backs made plays, so I can’t complain.
“That last drive, me and Adam just kind of decided to take over. Him and I have developed a great chemistry this season, and I knew I could count on him to make plays when we needed them.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
Nightmares 42, Spartans 14
Strabane 0 0 8 6 — 14
Lorain County 14 8 6 14 — 42
LC —Michael Mealing 5 pass from Cody Schuster
(Blake Sopko kick)
LC — Adam Herbert 10 pass from Schuster (Sopko kick)
LC — Schuster 9 run (Herbert pass from Schuster)
LC — Juan Cotto 62 fumble return (run failed)
S — Marquis Brown 55 punt return (Paul Henderson run)
S — Ramont Barfield 66 pass from Brown (run failed)
LC —Schuster 2 run (Sopko kick)
LC —Valentine Steadman 11 run (Sopko kick)
First downs 6 19
— by rushing 3 9
— by passing 3 8
— by penalty 0 2
Yards rushing -16 176
Yards passing 139 221
Total offense 123 397
Passes att./comp. 20/7 21/14
Intercepted by 3 1
Fumbles/lost 5/3 4/2
Penalties/yards 9/82 4/35
RUSHING — (S) Rob Epps 6-16, Keith Jackson 4-4, Dennis Cole 3-(-6), Marquis Brown 3-(-9), Milton Banks Jr. 9-(-27). (LC) Cody Schuster 12-58, Tim Taylor 10-52, Aaron James 7-50, Valentine Steadman 3-17, Michael Mealing 1-(-1).
PASSING — (S) Brown 1-2-66-1-1, Banks Jr. 4-12-68-0-1, Cole 2-5-15-0-1. (LC) Schuster 14-24-221-2-1.
RECEIVING — (S) Brown 4-58, Ramont Barfield 1-66, Hans Hauge 1-10, Phil Henderson 1-5. (LC) Adam Herbert 4-55, Taylor 4-45, Mealing 3-61, Troy Davila 2-18, Ricky Earl 1-42.