Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Already down 16-0 against visiting Parma, the Lakewood Rangers managed to get back into the game on a sharp play-action pass play from Peyton Graham to his tight end, Aaron Morit. Lakewood, however, failed to get into the endzone from close range on its next two possessions.
That’s when Antonio Sanchez happened.
Sanchez, Parma’s 5-6, 150-pound junior tailback, was playing in his first varsity game. His debut was one for the Redmen history books as he rushed for 148 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Parma’s 29-10 win over the Rangers Friday night at First Federal Lakewood Stadium.
“They obviously had a nice little scheme planned against us, and that kid took advantage,” said Rangers head coach Ron Lewis. “He ran the ball really well.”
“Sanchez is a big-play guy,” said Parma’s second-year head coach Dean Lasley. “He has great vision. We knew if we could just get some little creases for him that he could pop some big runs. That’s what we were looking for.
“This was his first varsity game, but I don’t think people are going to be surprised by him anymore,” added.
A 31-yard field goal by Jameson Foran had brought the Rangers back withing six, 16-10, with 1:08 left in the first half. That score followed a 28-yard punt return by Michael Goolsby to the Parma 21-yard line. The Rangers, however, managed just one net yard on the possession.
After an offsides call on Parma to start the second half, Lakewood’s Casimier Mitchell burst up the middle for a 39-yard gain to the Redmen 22-yard line. But Parma’s defense again held as junior linebacker Jesse Karban sacked Graham at midfield on fourth down and 13.
That’s when Sanchez went to work.
Following a pair of pass plays, Sanchez carried the ball on the next six plays, one of them a 25-yard gainer to the Lakewood 17. He totaled 46 yards on the ground in the drive, which was capped off by Zach Toth’s 16-yard touchdown strike to Andrew Miker on a slant play.
A two-point conversion failed, but Parma had regained the momentum built its lead to 22-10.
“The difference in the game was when we returned the punt down to the 21 and didn’t punch it in,” Lewis said. “Then right after halftime, we rip one down to the 22 and end up giving them the ball back on the 50.
“In hindsight, I’m going to bet I‘m going to want to kick that long field goal on that second drive. That would have made it 16-13 instead of 16-10. Instead, they got the ball at the 50 after the sack, then went down and score.”
Parma’s defense, which held Mitchell to 66 hard-fought rushing yards on the night, held yet again and forced a Ranger punt. Taking over at their own 18, The Redmen gave the ball to Sanchez. Up the middle he went, getting dragged down 66 yards later at the Lakewood 16.
He carried the ball the next two plays, getting eight yeards on each and the clinching touchdown on the second attempt. Matt Olen added the conversion kick, and the Redmen had a commanding 29-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Lakewood had one drive in the final quarter, taking the ball from its own 30 and marching down to the Parma 21. But that’s where the drive ended as a Graham-to-Anthony Ferrone pass play came up two yards short on fourth down with 5:25 left in the game.
“Parma really came out strong,” Lewis said. “They were fired up and played really well. The fumble hurt, and then we were a little surprised with the things they were doing on special teams. They caught us off guard there.
“I thought once we got down, we came back, but we’ve got to score. I’m shocked that we didn’t run the ball better. We ran for 51 yards, and that’s not what we were expecting. They did a great job. Their linebacker, No. 22 (Karban), was on Casimier the whole night.”
Lasley said he knew his team, coming off a 3-7 season, had to get off to a good start. They scored first on a Toth-to-Miker pass play from 16 yards out, then took a 16-0 lead after recovering a Mitchell fumble and returning it to the Ranger 21. A Sanchez scoring run from six yards out finished off the short drive, and a pair of trick plays on both 2-point conversions spiced up Parma’s hot start.
“Any time you go into the first game, you know it’s going to be competitive” Lasley said. “We respected both their run and pass games. We knew if we didn’t stop the running game, we didn’t have a chance to win.
“We knew they were going to make some plays and not give up. “We knew we had to answer back, and our kids stepped up. We’re always telling them ‘you’ve gotta finish, you’ve gotta finish.’ Tonight they did.
“This is huge. We played some great teams last year and they took it to us. To get this first win and have all the hard work pay off, the kids realize it now and can build off of it,” he concluded.
Lewis said that better days were ahead for his young football team.
“We had some guys tonight playing for the first time under the lights,” Lewis said. “I thought Graham played really well. He’s a great example, because it was his first varsity start. He threw for 104 yards and had the touchdown pass, but he made some mistakes too.
“We’ll learn from this and get better,” he added.
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