NORTH RIDGEVILLE — The evolution of the Lorain County Nightmares has been accelerated.
It is also what team owner and defensive end Sonny Hazelwood expected.
The Nightmares, in their first season as a franchise in the semi-professional Ohio Football League, will square off with the Akron-based Ohio Golden Knights on Saturday night with the league championship on the line.
The title game, which kicks off at 7 p.m. at Midview High School, pits the only two undefeated teams in the league — both 12-0 — against each other.
The Golden Knights and Nightmares are similar in more ways than wins and losses. Both teams have high-powered offenses, swarming defenses and play the game with similar styles.
“Both teams operate under the same sets of principles — discipline, hard work and respect,” Knights owner Jermaine Campbell said. “We both turned down guys who came out for the teams, really talented guys who had a history of success on the field, because they just weren’t our kind of players.
“We want guys that are going to buy in to what we’re doing as a team and represent our teams and our league in the best possible way. A guy that might be able to help on the field that would possibly hurt us off of it … we just aren’t interested in that kind of player.”
Hazelwood thinks the teams’ commitment to discipline and respect for the game is why they are the last two standing in the OFL.
“Jermaine has a similar vision. His team is in its second year and it’s funny how similar people kind of gravitate to each other,” Hazelwood said. “We talk almost daily and look at our teams … we are both on another level.
“In the beginning of the year we had tryouts and there were some studs that showed up. They really didn’t want to buy into what we were doing as a unit … they seemed to be about themselves, their numbers and individual accomplishments.
“We set our expectations from Day 1, that wasn’t about that. We have great players, college all-stars, on this team. These guys were good for a reason — they put the team in front of themselves. For us to be successful we knew that was the mindset we all had to have.”
Saturday’s game has the potential to see points scored at mind-blowing levels. The Golden Knights have playmakers all over the field, led by quarterback Jesse Mason, who was first-team All-Suburban League at Green High before playing at Walsh University.
During the regular season, Mason completed 96 of 146 passes for 1,793 yards and 22 touchdowns, with just three interceptions. He also rushed 31 times for 197 yards and five TDs.
Tailback Anthony Kelly was the 2009 Akron Beacon Journal player of the year after rushing for 2,224 yards and 27 touchdowns during his senior season at Woodridge High School. This season for the Knights he carried the ball 130 times for 1,136 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Receiver Glenn Campbell played at Akron Buchtel High before re-writing the receiving record book at Hiram College. He caught just 35 passes for the Knights during the regular season, but had 857 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.
“They have two dynamic players, one at wide receiver and one at running back,” Nightmares defensive coordinator Carlos Clipper said. “If we can stop them we can win this football game. Their quarterback is pretty good, but we have to stop Anthony Kelly and Glenn Campbell.”
The Golden Knights averaged 44.9 points per game offensively while giving up just 8.5. Hazelwood knows his defense will be facing an offense that can score from anywhere on the field.
“They’re an explosive team,” he said. “One play and they can be 70 yards down the field. Our defensive players know we have to stop them on every single play or it won’t be a first down … it’ll be a touchdown.”
The Nightmares have a high-powered offense as well, led by Elyria Catholic graduate Cody Schuster. Lorain County averaged 28.1 points per game this season.
Schuster threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns in Lorain County’s semifinal win over Greensburg.
Jermaine Campbell thinks the quarterback battle will be fun to watch.
“Both quarterbacks are similar players,” he said. “They both run the ball very well and are accurate passers that know how to read defenses and move their teams down the field. They also are both great leaders who keep their teams together.”
Hazelwood would put Schuster up against any other quarterback in the league and be very comfortable his team would have an edge.
“I couldn’t ask for a better quarterback, not just with his play but with what he does off the field,” Hazelwood said. “He will play a game, then go run 3 miles. He’s a silent leader, leading with his actions, and he inspires a lot of our guys with the way he plays. He never complains. Whatever comes his way he just handles it.”
Though the Nightmares can score points in bunches, they hang their hats on defense. They had five shutouts this season and gave up an average of just 5.8 points per game.
“We’ve come a long way as a defense. We have five shutouts and, as far as talent, the ceiling is still high,” Clipper said. “We haven’t reached our full potential yet because we have a lot of young players mixed in with the veterans.
“Because of our leadership, our veterans, when Saturday comes I think we’re going to step our game up.
“(The Knights) have speed, are very disciplined and because of where they come from, the Akron area, you know they are going to be physical. If nothing else we know they are going to come out hitting.”
Jermaine Campbell said the Knights are squaring off with who they wanted, that Lorain County has been in their sites all year.
“As far as the sports entertainment factor, this is the matchup I wanted,” he said. “I wanted to see the best teams from each division, both undefeated, battling for the championship. There will be two high-octane offenses, two solid defenses and playmakers all over the field. Both teams are going to put on a show.”
Hazelwood feels the same way.
“Since the second week of the season these two teams have been starting to look at each other,” he said. “We were in opposite divisions and we had a few more closer games than they did, but we knew the dream matchup would be against them.”
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.