North Olmsted gridders have perfect season
By Jim Horvath
That was the 2010 football season for the North Olmsted junior varsity squad as the Eagles used a fourth-quarter rally to defeat Olmsted Falls, 25-22, and finish their season a perfect 10-0.
“This was a special year,one I won’t soon forget,” said junior varsity head coach Kuni Okuma as rehashed the season with players Rayshon Robinson, Brendan Busse and Michael Starcovic last Friday afternoon.
“It was a lot of fun,” Okuma said, his players shaking their heads in agreement. “Winning is fun, especially when you can do it with good character kids like we had this season. Football is a great team game, and we had a lot of guys doing their part to make this happen.”
What happened was the first undefeated football season at North Olmsted in recent memory. According to the record book, the school’s last undefeated football squad came way back in 1968 when the varsity team accomplished the feat. Nobody can recall the last time a junior varsity team – if ever – made it through unbeaten.
But now everybody will remember that it did happen in 2010.
“We’ve been playing together for so long,” Robinson said. “But we never had a season like this. I know I’ll remember everything we shared as a team, all the memories.”
“I think we jelled together really fast,” Busse, the team’s quarterback, said. “We played well together from game one on both sides of the ball.”
“We’re all pretty good friends, too,” Starcovic chipped in. “We had a big win against Avon Lake, and I think that Brecksville game really got us thinking we could do something special.”
The Eagles opened the season with a strong 36-6 win over Valley Forge, then got past Elyria, 20-16, to start out 2-0. North Olmsted’s only shutout of the season, a 28-0 decision over Lakewood, made the Eagles 3-0 heading into the Southwestern Conference season.
The team kept rolling, beating Amherst convincingly, 26-7. Up next for the Eagles was Avon Lake, a program North Olmsted hasn’t beaten in years.
Things would be different this time around.
“That Avon Lake game…I definitely felt something was different,” Robinson said. “I know it was quiet on the bus ride there.
“It was close the entire game, and we played our hardest,” Robinson said. “It was a battle up front on every play, every possession.”
The Eagles found themselves trailing after the Shoremen interception and score, but they didn’t give up. They got the ball back and tied the score at 14-14, scoring a touchdown on a fourth down and goal from 12 yards out.
If that play wasn’t big enough, the one in the fourth quarter by Starcovic certainly was.
“The officials had told us before the game that there would be no overtime,” Okuma said. “So we needed a stop and a big play to get the win.”
The North Olmsted defense stood strong, and the Eagles took over at their own 17-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Busse ran the toss sweep to Starcovic. The sophomore tailback ran untouched down the sideline for what proved to be the winning score.
“I don’t think that image will ever leave my mind,” Okuma said with a smile. “Mike pretty much outran everybody, and our sideline just errupted when he reached the endzone. It was a pretty special moment.”
The 20-14 win made the Eagles 5-0, but there were still big games ahead with the Bees and Bulldogs. North Olmsted took care of Westlake, 34-18, then took on Brecksville and came away with an impressive 28-14 win. The team stayed focused and rolled past Midpark, 29-6, and Berea, 40-8, before taking on Falls in the season finale at home.
When the players came out for warmups that Saturday morning, they soon realized this would be no routine junior varsity game.
“The drum line was out there, and we even had a student section,” Busse recalled. “There were definitely more people than just our parents in the stands.”
“Our field was freshly cut, and the lines were repainted,” Okuma said. “Things had a different feel to them, without a doubt. Our whole varsity staff was there, as well as coaches from all the other sports, teachers, administrators.
“It was nice to see people get behind us that day,” he added.
“Just thinking about that game still gives me the chills,” Starcovic said.
The Eagles took a 12-8 lead into the locker room at the half after scoring a touchdown in the final seconds of the second quarter. Tommie Rodriguez scored on a fade pass from Busse to cap off the Eagles’ two-minute drill.
But in the second half, the visitors took advantage of some North Olmsted miscues and took the lead, 22-12, heading into the fourth quarter.
“It felt like we had fallen farther behind than that,” Okuma said. “So when I looked up at the scoreboard and saw it was only 10 points, I called the whole team over. I told them that we could do it, that we had 10 more minutes and to stay composed.
North Olmsted got closer on a scoring pass from Busse to Starcovic. Then the Eagle defense stepped up again, recovering a fumble at midfield with about four minutes remaining.
“We knew we had the ability to score quickly, but we didn’t want to give them the ball back with too much time left on the clock,” Okuma said. “We wanted to be deliberate and take as much time as we could.”
North Olmsted got a big play on fourth down and two when Busse avoided the rush and scrambled for the first down. A few plays later, Tommy Sutton got the Eagles inches from the goal line. On the very next snap, Busse took it in on a quarterback sneak for the go-ahead score.
The defense still had to hold.
“It seemed like forever,” Starcovic said.
Falls ran back the kickoff to the 50, then ran a pass play to get inside the Eagle 25. But Chester Connolly came up with a quarterback sack, and Zach Kozik sealed the deal as he knocked a pass away on fourth down.
The Eagles were now the undefeated SWC champions.
“I don’t care if it’s flag football, middle school or high school,” said Eagles head coach Mike Ptacek. “This was something very special for these kids, and it’s something they should cherish forever.
“As a coach, you hope the experiences these kids had this year as JV players translates to Friday nights next year,” Ptacek said. “And that last game was something different. The kids felt it, the crowd felt it.
“It’s nice to have something so positive heading into our off-season,” he added.