The Rocky River Pirates football season came to an abrupt end at home Friday night. The Pirates fell behind early to Great Lakes Conference foe Elyria Catholic, and could not catch up in a 35-7 loss.
Held scoreless for nearly 47 minutes, Rocky River’s only points came on a touchdown pass from sophomore Braedon Spies to senior Owen Bebie in the final minute.
River started the game with a flash. Tommy Bebie fielded the opening kick, then passed it to Owen Bebie who ran for a touchdown. But before the Pirates could celebrate for too long, a penalty was called on Rocky River, taking the points off the board and giving them poor opening field position.
“It’s deflating,” Rocky River coach Josh Wells said. “To get a start like that, that changes the course of the game. It changes your attitude, it changes a lot.”
From there, the Panthers (7-3, 6-2 GLC) relied on their juggernaut formation, in which a running back took the snap, and proficient passing from junior quarterback Steven Navalinsky, who finished 11 of 15 passing for 199 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Elyria Catholic relied on the strength of tight end, running back and defensive lineman hybrid, senior Nathan Damron. On the Pirate’s first drive, Damron strip-sacked Spies, setting up the Panthers’ first drive in Pirate territory.
Four plays later, Damron scored on a 12-yard run. Damron finished with two sacks and 11 carries for 98 yards and a touchdown
“It all starts in the trenches,” Damron said. “You be physical upfront, then you can control that game and set the tone for the game. It comes down to just blowing the ball down their throat. That’s all you really need to do.”
Senior running back Zachary Gorczyca also benefited from the juggernaut package, carrying the ball four times for 99 yards and two touchdowns (85 yards and 8 yards). Senior receiver Jack Griffin lead the way with three catches for 62 yards and a touchdown with sophomore Alex Carandang adding two grabs for 77 yards.
The Panthers’ offensive and defensive lines were unstoppable. Rocky River (5-5, 3-5 GLC) played without leading receiver/defensive back Cristain Dean, who missed the game with an arm injury.
“They’re good,” Elyria Catholic coach Brian Fox said of his lines. “They’re strong, they’re nasty, they’re physical. Techinique-wise, you see them executing (blocking schemes) beautifully. (Rocky River’s) is not an easy front to go against and the fact that they can just move people is spectacular.”
Despite struggling to sustain an offense, the Pirates were led by Tommy (eight carries, 26 yards) and Owen Bebie (six catches, 80 yards, touchdown) with Spies going 12 of 21 passing for 138 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
The Pirates’ season, which started a promising 5-2, ended with three consecutive losses. A 34-14 loss to Bay started the streak.
Along with Dean and Owen Bebie, five other seniors played their final games for the Pirates Friday night. Though those losses will be immediately felt in the locker room, only losing seven seniors means Rocky River will have little turnover in its starting corps.
With all the Pirates have been through this year, beginning with the death of former player Patrick Green on June 27, who had graduated a month earlier, Wells praised his team for keeping its composure this year.
“You never want to have kids learn adversity the way they did this summer,” Wells said. “That brought this group together. Regardless of what the outcomes were of our games, our kids never quit. I think that’s a culture changer.”
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