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The Bay Rockets narrowly beat the Valley Forge Patriots Friday at home, handing their GLC foes the first loss of the season.

Rockets soar to conference lead with win

In order to achieve a sixth consecutive winning season and, potentially, a sixth consecutive Division II playoff berth, it was clear the Bay Village Rockets were going to have to win all its games.

The Great Lakes Conference, which sent three teams along with the Rockets to the state playoffs in 2018, added another this year in Buckeye when the league expanded. And when the 2019 schedule came out, the Rockets were facing one of the toughest early stretches of any area program.

The Rockets tied for first place in the league last Friday after narrowly beating previously undefeated Valley Forge at homecoming, 22-19.

In the first four weeks of the season, the Rockets faced four teams that were above .500 in 2018, three of which reached the playoffs. Excluding a 38-7 loss to Buckeye in week two, the Rockets have dodged any other pitfalls near the halfway mark of the season with a 3-1 record (2-1 GLC).

“A lot of teams doubted us after Buckeye,” Rockets running back Joe Galati said. “But we came back. Elyria Catholic doubted us, but we came back. Valley Forge is a good team and they run the ball well, but they know who’s the better team today.”

With six games to go, the Rockets are confident after beating Valley Forge (3-1, 2-1 GLC), Keystone and Elyria Catholic.

“We’re not used to having these four big power teams coming at us right off the bat, but I think we’re showing a lot of teams what we can do now, and what we can do the rest of the season,” Galati said. “This schedule puts a lot on us. These are big wins, and I think it’s going to carry us through the season.”

The first four games marked the toughest stretch of the team’s schedule, but Bay’s not done facing tough opponents. It will play host to Fairview (2-2, 2-1) this Friday at 7 p.m., then Holy Name (3-1, 2-0) on Oct. 4 before renewing its rivalry with Rocky River — another 2018 playoff team — on Oct. 18. A non-conference matchup with Richfield Revere (currently 3-1) is slated for week 10.

“I was nervous because our schedule was not favorable the first few weeks,” Rockets coach Ron Rutt said. “We have a lot of newcomers this year and I knew it was going to be tough getting going, so to be standing here 3-1 feels great, to be honest.”

The victory over Valley Forge wasn’t easy. The Patriots and their Wing-T offense rushed for 325 yards on 54 carries, with six different players sharing the workload. Senior Mike Pappas led the way with 111 yards on 20 carries, while Antwon Torres had 86 yards and two first quarter touchdowns on seven carries.

Torres scored on his team’s first two possessions to put it ahead 12-0, but Bay blocked both extra point kicks. The Rockets responded with 1:53 left in the first when senior quarterback Logan LaMere connected with Cullen Gergye for a 6-yard scoring pass that made it 12-7. That score would remain through halftime when Pappas’ 30-yard field goal with two seconds left missed wide.

Nick Buttari (11 carries, 86 yards) helped give the Rockets their first lead early in the third quarter at 15-12 with an 8-yard touchdown run, followed by a successful two-point conversion run. But the Patriots stormed back with a punishing, eight-minute drive that covered 73 yards in 14 plays. Kentrell Marks (11-74) finished it off with a 5-yard touchdown run, putting the Patriots back up 19-15.

As the fourth quarter began, Patriots coach Marcello Deangelis saw his pre-game expectation fulfilling itself.

“We started off pretty hot, but I’m not an idiot. I knew that it would be coming down to the wire the whole time. I just knew it,” he said. “Bay’s Bay. They’re not going to let you come into their place and take it to them like that. So I knew it was going to come down to the last possession. I knew it. I didn’t expect anything less.”

The Rockets covered 80 yards in seven plays, with Galati scoring on an 18-yard run to give them the lead back. Gergye’s extra point made it 22-19 with 10:07 left.

Two plays before the touchdown, LaMere completed his biggest pass of the game on a third-and-11 from his own 35, heaving a 40-yard pass to Gergye (five catches, 99 yards) deep in Patriot territory. Galati (five carries for 70 yards) took care of the rest.

“When my (offensive linemen) heard the play call, they told me ‘you’re getting in the end zone’,” Galati said. “I found the block, ran as fast as I could and made sure I got in there.”

Though they struggled to stop the run all night, the Rockets forced a punt on the Patriots’ next drive, then effectively ended the game with 1:25 left when Ben Anderson intercepted a Zach Ansboro pass. LaMere (8-for-16, 161 yards, TD, INT) ran out the clock.

“You don’t want to fall down two scores to (Valley Forge), because that’s what they want,” Rutt said. “But I was super proud of how our guys kept playing the next play all night long and didn’t worry about the scoreboard and just kept trying to execute play-in and play-out until the clock hit zero.”

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