By Jim Horvath
I you like offense, Bay Memorial Stadium was where you needed to be Friday night.
From start to finish, points went up on the scoreboard like there was no tomorrow. Visiting Rocky River used a 21-0 second quarter to take a big halftime lead, then held on for dear life in the second half to win a 53-34 shootout over the Rockets in a West Shore Conference barn burner.
The Pirates, who got 131 rushing yards from Ben Hofecker and four touchdown passes from Robbie Plagens, stayed one game behind first place Avon at 3-1 in the WSC. The Rockets fell to 2-2, but put together an impressive second half after trailing 40-14 at halftime.
Senior Nathan Baumgard ignited the crowd by taking the opening kickoff and racing 82 yards for the first touchdown of the night. Alec Petro made the conversion kick, and it was 7-0 before the bands could even get seated.
River, however, showed just how prolific its offense has become this season by going on an incredible 40-7 run the rest of the half. The Pirates held a slim 19-14 lead after the first quarter, but took control behind the running of Hofecker and the arm of Plagens.
Plagens, who completed 15 of 20 passes on the night for 173 yards, threw three touchdown passes in the first quarter alone. He answered Baumgard’s kickoff return with a 15-yarder to Zak Echols, then found Killian Hollo with a 6-yard strike. An 8-yard toss to Kyle Dunne made it 19-7 with 3:30 still remaining in the quarter.
The Pirates missed a pair of conversion attempts, but it would soon be evident that those miscues wouldn’t matter in the big scheme of things.
Bay stopped the bleeding when junior quarterback, making his first varsity start, scored on a 47-yard run with 1:55 left in the first. But the rest of the second quarter was all River. Plagens found Dunne again, this time on an 8-yard strike. Echols ran it in for two points, and the Pirates had some breathing room at 27-14.
Both teams went scoreless for the next seven minutes, allowing fans to regain their collective breaths. But a pair pair of Bay turnovers – an interception and a fumble – proved costly.
Echols picked off a pass near midfield and returned it to the Rocket 24-yard line. Hofecker took the handoff and rambled the remaining yards to pay dirt, making the score 33-14. Just seconds later, Plagens cashed in on the fumble recovery as he hit Dunne again, this time from 22 yards out with just 13 seconds left in the half.
A 40-14 deficit would have caused some teams to call it a night, but not the Rockets.
River got the kickoff to open the second half, but the Bay defense held. The Rockets took over on offense and marched 95 yards in 13 plays. Kana capped it off by throwing a picture-perfect pass to Brian Liechti from 36 yards out. Petro made the kick, and it was 40-21 with 2:51 left in the third quarter.
River answered quickly, with Hofecker scoring on a 4-yard run. But Bay came right back on a Kana quarterback sneak to open the fourth quarter and make the score 47-34. A Jack Blake interception got the ball back for Bay, and the Rockets took advantage with a 3-yard touchdown run by Baumgard with 6:47 left in the game.
With some momentum in their favor, the Rockets went for the onside kick. River recovered, then fumbled on it first play from scrimmage. The River defense made a stand, however, getting the ball back to its offense. Moments later, Plagens took it in himself on a 9-yard run to account for the final score. A Dunne interception near the goal line thwarted Bay’s final rally.
It was a big night for Plagens, who also ran the ball five times for 66 yards. Dunne had six receptions for the game for 85 yards and also ran the ball for times for 31 yards. Hofecker got 106 of his 131 yards in the first half.
For the Rockets, Kana had a huge game filling in for injured senior quarterback Ryan Hoke.
Kana ran the ball 17 times for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns he also completed 12 of 22 passes for another 167 yards and a score.