It took two days, but the first matchup between longtime rivals Rocky River and Fairview as Great Lakes Conference opponents did not disappoint.
With 7:33 left in the first half Friday night at Fairview High School, both teams and all fans were evacuated from the field with lightning in the area. After more than an hour delay, both teams were back on the field and ready to resume play when lightning struck again, this time leading to a postponement until 10 a.m. Saturday.
Fairview led 10-6 when the game was postponed, but when game ended Saturday morning, Rocky River had finished off a 34-20 win.
“It’s something that you never really plan for,” Rocky River coach Josh Wells said. “You talk about it but when it happens, kids can respond one of two ways and our kids didn’t want to lose. Hats off to Fairview. They play us tough and they had a great gameplan but our kids dealt with the adversity, overcame a lot. Our kids are unbelievable. Our kids are just fantastic.”
Rocky River (2-1, 1-1 GLC) struck first Friday night when, in the first quarter, quarterback Braedon Spies and fullback Tommy Bebie connected on a 98-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. The Pirates couldn’t convert on the try-for-two and led 6-0.
Fairview (1-2, 1-1 GLC) scored on its next two drives starting with a 28-yard rush by running back Matt Kaufmann. The senior carried the Warriors offense, rushing 27 times for 150 yards and the one touchdown.
“We call Matt the human joystick. He’s unbelievable,” Fairview coach Dave Latkovic said. “I think what we need to do is keep using formations to spread it out and he can scribble in there. He’s a special kid, he’s super tough. He’s one of the most authentic, nicest, sweetest kids you’ll ever meet, but he’s a lion on the field.”
After recovering a fumble on the ensuing Pirate drive, the Warriors again stuck to the ground and milked the clock before ultimately settling for a field goal to go up 10-6. That was the last play before the game was put in the initial delay.
When play resumed Saturday morning, the momentum was squarely with Fairview. The Warriors forced a punt on the Pirates' first drive and turned that into another field goal to increase their lead to 13-6.
From there on out, though, Rocky River was near unstoppable.
The Pirates tied it on their next drive as Spies found senior receiver Cristain Dean over the top for a 59-yard score. That was the first of three touchdowns for the senior Pirate in the game. Overall, Dean finished with five catches for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
“(Friday) I was so mad that the game got delayed,” Dean said. “We were playing so bad in that first quarter and I knew we needed to come out and just take it to ‘em. We had a couple plays in mind for me and they hit big and I’m happy about that.”
After causing a fumble of their own on the next Fairview drive, the Pirates needed just one play to dial up one of those plays designed for Dean. This time, it was a double pass from Spies to running back Owen Bebie who then found Dean deep for an 81-yard score.
Once again on the Pirates next drive, it was Spies to Dean from 49-yards out to put the Pirates up 27-13. Behind center, Spies had an impressive stat line of 9-of-18 passing for 397 yards and four touchdowns. Spies capped off the Pirates’ scoring on River’s next drive, connecting this time with Owen Bebie for a 45-yard touchdown.
In all, the Pirates scored 28 unanswered points after trailing 13-6.
“We’re such a young team. And when things change and (there’s) a new environment, whatever it was; full moon (Friday), I don’t know,” Wells said. “It takes them a second or two, a drive or two to get their legs underneath them but once we get going, we can deal with the grind of a game and wear people down. I think that’s a testament to the work the kids have put in in the offseason.”
With just more than seven minutes left in the game, Fairview’s quarterback Declan Jewitt ran in a score from the 9 on fourth-and-one to cut the lead to 34-20, but there was nothing else the Warriors could do at that point.
After the game, Latkovic acknowledged that, defensively, his team was exposed in part due to skill and size, but mainly due to inexperience.
“I just think (Rocky River was) able to make adjustments because they did not adjust at all (Friday) night,” Latkovic said. “We’ve got a lot of inexperienced (defensive backs), they couldn’t drive the ball on us, they couldn’t muscle us, they had to go over the top and when they’re going over they top, they’re going over first-year players who are DB’s. A couple guys got beat deep. It happens, man.”
Inexperience also plagued the Warriors on the offensive and defensive lines. Fairview Park had 10 penalties for 50 yards, all coming on pre-snap false start or encroachments.
Latkovic said the theme around this year’s season has been to keep “pounding a boulder.”
“We’re in an impossible situation,” he said. “Going into this league is ridiculous. We talk about it being a giant boulder and we all have sledgehammers and we’re just pounding and pounding. I’m telling them, eventually that things are going to start cracking and there’s going to be gold in there.
“That’s going to happen this year,” Latkovic continued. “We’re going to upset some people. We’re going to do some things that no one expects from Fairview High School. This league will respect us in the end. I told the kids at the end, this boulder’s starting to crack.”
The Warriors will have their next chance to keep cracking that boulder when they play Parma at 7:00 p.m. Friday at Byers Field.
For Rocky River, this victory is a rebound after a tough 24-21 loss to Valley Forge. Wells said beating Fairview was “huge” with a 7:00 p.m. matchup against Holy Name Saturday on the road up next.
“It’s a great bounceback to be down early and come back and roll of 28 points (and) pull out a win in a weird circumstance.”
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