Momentum can be beautiful or cruel, depending on which side of it you’re on.
In a Great Lakes Conference crossover game Sept. 2, the Rocky River and Valley Forge football teams experienced both, with each half firmly belonging to one or the other.
When Kentrell Marks crossed the goal line on a 2-point conversion to give the Patriots a 30-29 lead with 1:05 left, it was clear the hosts were able to ride the wave at just the right time. Ben Farson’s interception of a Braedon Spies pass with 51 seconds left meant that score would go final at Byers Field in Parma.
It was the Pirates’ (2-1) first loss of the season and came at the conclusion of a second half that slipped away from them entirely. Up 21-0 at halftime, key injuries and the Patriots’ (2-1) withering run game eroded their advantage and put them on their heels.
“Our kids fought,” Pirates coach Josh Wells said. “I’m really proud of our kids. You can’t see much more adversity than this and we have to build from it and move on. There’s a lot of football left to play.”
The Patriots amassed 232 yards in the second half – 178 on the ground – and scored on four c consecutive possessions. Quarterback Ryan Frye got them on the board with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Justice Mansu with 5:47 left in the third quarter, then Marks broke off a 56-yard touchdown run two minutes later. Starks’ successful 2-point conversion run cut the Pirates’ lead to 21-14.
The Pirates went three-and-out and punted for a third consecutive possession, and the Patriots responded with a nine-play drive capped by Marks’ 26-yard touchdown run with 9:58 to play in the game. Starks again ran in a conversion, and the hosts suddenly led the Pirates 22-21.
A 36-yard run by senior Tommy Bebie set up a 1st-and-goal from the Patriot 9 on the ensuing drive. Spies followed with a touchdown strike to Patrick Lange to take the lead back. Opting to go for two, Spies connected with Mack Massad near the left corner of the end zone to make it 29-22 with 4:03 remaining.
A very short kickoff put the Patriots in favorable position at their own 47, and 10 plays later Starks scored from the Pirate 2 to pull within one, 29-28. The Pirates nearly made a goal line stand, bringing down Marks twice in a row from their 1 and forcing a crucial third down before Starks finished the job.
Marks’ conversion put the Patriots back in front for good.
“Our coaches make really good adjustments,” Patriots coach Marcello DeAngelis said. “So at halftime everyone was cool, calm and collected. We’ve come from behind to win games before, and our kids, they believe. Those kids have a lot of heart and a lot of guts. They dug deep today. That was incredible.”
True to their style of awakening in second halves, the Patriots held the Pirates to 93 yards while their own offense broke out. Marks ran for 179 yards on 22 carries –113 after halftime. Starks did his damage between the tackles, gaining 59 yards on 19 carries.
Throwing only short passes, Frye completed 8-of-12 passes for 63 yards. He was 4-4 for 54 yards in the second half, including three completions that kept drives alive. The use of conversions after each touchdown became a necessity last week after a previous injury to Antwan Torres left the Patriots without their usual holder.
“We just thought it’d be better going for two,” DeAngelis said. “We didn’t want to put that pressure on our kicker, with a new holder. The first one worked, so why not keep going?”
It also helped them that the Pirates were forced to play around injuries to two of their anchors. Brothers Tommy and Johnny Bebie left the game in the third quarter, and only Tommy returned after regrouping on the sideline for several minutes. By the time he got back on the field, his team’s momentum had slipped.
“We came out sluggish, couldn’t execute,” Wells said. “We were dinged up coming into this. Johnny going down sort of limited our game plan a little bit, then Tommy going down limited it even more. Our third-string running back got hurt last week.”
Prior to the stinging defeat, the Pirates pieced together a nearly flawless first half. The defense largely bottled up the Marks-Starks combo, holding them to a combined 83 yards. On their first drive of the game, Spies threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Lange, then followed it up with a bullish 14-yard touchdown run with eight seconds left in the first quarter.
A Patriots turnover on downs set up the Pirates at their own 11, and they marched downfield until Johnny Bebie punched in a 4-yard score that helped bump the lead to 21-0.
Spies completed 9 of 14 passes for 114 yards, while also rushing for 46 on 10 attempts. Before exiting in the third, Johnny Bebie led the team with 75 yards on seven carries. Older brother Tommy rushed 10 times for 61 yards.
This Friday at 7 p.m., Rocky River will host Lakewood and Valley Forge will travel to Bay as GLC divisional crossover games continue.
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