By Ryan Kaczmarski
As severe weather started to hit Northeast Ohio on Friday, bringing high winds and dumping torrents of rain, the WESTLAKE High School football team had an idea that it was going to be its night to shine.
The Demons did shine through the rain and mud, both offensively and defensively, and defeated visiting Brecksville 17-0 to clinch a share of the Southwestern Conference title, Westlake’s first conference championship since 1984.
“It’s a great group of kids,” Westlake head coach Mark Campo said. “The seniors led (the team). They all came together, showed up at practice every day and showed up every Friday and worked hard.”
Westlake (9-1, 6-1 in the SWC) made its presence known on defense on the third play of the game, when senior linebacker Danny Strotbeck stepped in front of a Tommy Tupa pass and took it 22 yards to the house (PAT by Sean Bigley), to give Westlake an early 7-0 lead.
“I wasn’t shocked that (the ball) was coming to me, because I saw his brother (Brecksville wide receiver Tim Tupa) come underneath and stuck with him all the way across (the field),” Strotbeck said. “I just felt that (the interception) emotionally boosted us, and got us going. It felt great. The whole team got up and we just started pounding and pounding it.”
Not to be outshone by the defense, the Demons offense kept things simple and pounded the Bees’ defense with the running game. Westlake mounted a 97-yard drive in the second quarter that included a 46-yard touchdown run by senior Shawn Turk (PAT by Bigley) to make the score 14-0 with just under three minutes left in the first half.
“This was our conditions,” Turk said. “We love this stuff and we love the mud.
“As soon as that (hole) opened up – God, it’s a little blurry – I just started running.”
Turk finished the game with 70 yards on nine carries.
Westlake added a 27-yard Bigley field goal with 2:48 left in the game to make the final 17-0. Demons senior running back Logan Paul carried the ball 26 times for 100 yards and junior quarterback Kent Axcell completed two of six passes for 36 yards and ran the ball for 31 yards.
“We knew we had all the pieces of the puzzle, but we just needed to see how it would all come together,” Campo said. “They just got better every week.”
The Demons share the SWC title with Avon Lake, but they have the satisfaction of knowing that they handed the Shoremen their only conference loss. Westlake will make its first playoff appearance since 1989, at home on Friday, against (Mansfield) Madison High School (9-1).
Around the Westshore:
LUTHERAN WEST (5-5, 4-3 in the Patriot Athletic Conference – Stripes division) defeated rival FAIRVIEW (3-7, 3-4 in the PAC) 28-19, to close out the season.
The Warriors scored early to take a 6-0 lead. The score was set up on a blocked Longhorn punt (PAT failed).
The Longhorns came right back and took command of the game. Junior quarterback Greg Kunze connected with senior co-captain Chris Ranc on a 30-yard scoring strike. The extra point was blocked and the score was deadlocked at 6-6.
The Longhorns took a 12-6 lead moments later, when Kunze connected again, this time to senior Kyle Masek on a 12-yard touchdown pass. The try for two failed. On the next possession, Kunze threw his third touchdown pass of the night, this time a 23-yard scoring strike to Brad Warnkin. Kunze then connected with Warnkin for the 2-point conversion. The Longhorns took a 20-6 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Warriors pulled to 20-13 as the fourth quarter began, but the Longhorns answered immediately as Chris Ranc returned the kickoff 82 yards for the score. Senior quarterback Nash Hagen then connected with Warnkin for another 2-point conversion. The score stood at 28-15.
The Warriors wouldn’t die easily, as they punched in a score with two minutes remaining, but their try for two failed. The Longhorns were able to run out the clock and preserve the victory.
Outstanding performances were also put in by the Longhorn defensive front of Aaron Geye, Kameron Bremer, Tyler Cerny and Pat Hofener. They put constant pressure on Fairview’s quarterback Jason Kish. Linebackers Izaak Zrnich and Ryan O’Connor played stellar as usual. Geye also had several key receptions that set up several Longhorn scores.
“We are extremely happy for our whole club, especially our senior class,” Lutheran West head coach Dave Stupka said. “These seniors have built a great foundation for us to build on, that will be their legacy. It will be up to our returning players to provide the same type of leadership and class that this group has shown. We are excited about our future.”
OLMSTED FALLS (2-8, 2-5 in the Southwestern Conference) defeated NORTH OLMSTED (7-3, 4-3 in the SWC) 17-7, and knocked the Eagles out of playoff contention. In a game where only three passes were completed, Olmsteed Falls senior Mike Gib carried the ball for over 250 yards for the Bulldogs, and the Eagles had no answers to the power run game. The wet conditions seemed to impact the Eagles more than the Bulldogs. Both teams fumbled the ball away three times.
ROCKY RIVER (6-4, 5-2 in the West Shore Conference) closed out the season with a 27-13 victory over Vermilion.
BAY (3-7, 1-6 in the WSC) finished the 2012 campaign with a 36-30 loss to Midview.
LAKEWOOD (4-6, 3-4 in the WSC) finished its first season playing in the West Shore Conference with a 21-0 loss to Elyria Catholic.