Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
As a steady rain continued to fall at Charles A. Harding Memorial Stadium, the Lakewood Rangers found themselves facing an uphill battle against a formidable combination.
Wet field conditions, the triple threat option attack of Olmsted Falls and Spencer Linville.
Linville, the Bulldogs' junior running back, racked up 265 yards rushing and scored four touchdowns on the night as the home team prevailed, 35-10, Friday night in a Southwestern Conference matchup.
With the loss, Lakewood dropped to 0-3 on the season and 0-2 in its inaugural SWC season. Olmsted Falls moved to 3-0 and 2-0 in the conference as Linville continued to carry the load with 43 carries on the night.
"He's been doing a great job for us so far this season, and he ran the ball well again tonight," said Bulldogs head coach Tom DeLuca after a brief meeting with his team in the north end zone.
"And I have to point out how well our offensive line played too," DeLuca continued. "They opened up some pretty good holes for him, and he took advantage. We were able to grind out plays on a night where we really needed to do that.
"That's the kind of team we're going to be. This is a blue collar community, and we've consciously made the effort to mold our team after that," he said.
The final score, however, was not a reflection of just how close the game was through the first three quarters. Lakewood trailed 21-10, but paid the price for missing some opportunities early in the game.
In the first quarter, the Bulldogs fumbled the ball at the Ranger 42-yard line, with senior Adam Giffels recovering. But at the Olmsted Falls 15-yard line, Lakewood returned the favor and fumbled the ball away on a botched center-quarterback exchange.
Late in the quarter, the Rangers recovered another Bulldog fumble, this time at the Falls 24. Lakewood got down to the six, but two straight negative plays and a quarterback sack forced the Rangers to settle for a 37-yard field goal by senior James Marshall.
That's when the Linville Show began.
On the ensuing kickoff, Linville took the ball at his own 20-yard line. He broke through Lakewood's first line of defenders, broke two more tackles and sped up field for an 80-yard touchdown. Lakewood followed with a three and out, and Linville went back to work.
He carried the ball on seven of Falls' nine offensive plays and capped off a 60-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 14-3, Bulldogs, with 3:56 left in the half. As the game went on from there, the wet conditions helped slow the Lakewood offense and give Linville an advantage.
Still, the Rangers kept things close and cut the lead to four with just under nine minutes to play in the third quarter. That's when senior Chris Massey blocked a Bulldog punt, scooped up the ball and raced 47 yards for a touchdown.
Marshall added the conversion kick, and it was 14-10 with plenty of football remaining. But the Ranger offense continued to stall, and Linville continued to run wild.
Lakewood gained just 132 yards of offense in the game, and a paltry 22 on the ground. That played right into the Bulldogs' hands, according to Ranger head coach Mike Ribar.
"It was not a good night to play these guys with the rain," he admitted. "That played right into their game plan and not ours.
"We don't do anything on the first drive, then we give up the ball and we stop them and recover a fumble," Ribar said. "We had good field position and we go down inside their 20.
"Then we return the favor with a fumble. That just can't happen. We're not that good to do things like that. But we can play with anybody. We showed everybody we could play with these guys tonight.
"But then we don't execute and the game is over before we know what hit us," he said.
Linville scored his third touchdown of the game with 4:06 left in the third quarter on another 1-yard plunge. Up 21-10, Linville and the Bulldogs delivered the play that put the nail in the coffin early in the fourth.
The Lakewood defense had stiffened, and a 5-yard loss had the Bulldogs facing a third down and 30 from their own 45-yard line. The next play call was another handoff to Linville, who broke through the line and rambled 29 yards all the way down to the Ranger 16.
On fourth and one, Linville gained another seven yards to the Lakewood nine. On fourth and goal, Matt Archual scored from five yards out to make it 28-10 with 6:54 left in the game. Linville, who went over the 200-yard mark on the 29-yarder, scored on a 5-yard run with 3:10 left to cap off the Bulldog win.
"We were right there in the third quarter," Ribar said. "Then it was 21-10 on that third and 30. If we stop them there, at least we're still in the game. You're playing football.
"But then it got to a point where it was over. I think we had run four offensive plays by the time we got midway through the fourth quarter. It all comes down to execution.
"All we talked about before the game was execute and do your job," he said.
Ribar said a lack of execution on offense hurt his team as much as Linville's big night.
"Offensively, it again comes down to execution. We dropped maybe four or five balls," he said.
"I thought our quarterback played a decent game. He threw the ball well, but we couldn't catch anything. And we keep trying to find ways to get the ball into Michael Goolsby's hands and hopefully he breaks one somewhere. But that didn't happen tonight.
"I'm concerned up front on both sides of the ball. Right now, we can't run the ball and we can't stop the run. We've got to keep going back to the drawing board," he added.
DeLuca felt his team's execution could have been better as well. His Bulldogs lost a pair of fumblers and were flagged for 65 yards in penalties.
"We made a lot of mistakes, especially in the first half, with fumbles and penalties," DeLuca said. "We'll go back to work and work to clean those things up.
"But it's definitely better to be able to work on fixing things when you're 3-0," he added.
Southwestern Conference Standings
Avon 2-0 (3-0)
Berea-Midpark 2-0 (3-0)
Midview 2-0 (3-0)
Olmsted Falls 2-0 (3-0)
North Ridgeville 1-1 (1-2)
Avon Lake 1-1 (1-2)
North Olmsted 0-2 (1-2)
Amherst 0-2 (0-3)
Lakewood 0-2 (0-3)
Westlake 0-2 (0-3)
Friday Night's Games
Midview 49, Amherst 10
Avon 41, North Olmsted 40 (Triple OT)
Avon Lake 35, Westlake 14
Berea-Midaprk 41, North Ridgeville 21
Next Week's Games
Amherst at Berea-Midaprk
Midview at Avon
Avon Lake at Lakewood
Westlake at North Olmsted
North Ridgeville at Olmsted Falls
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