Story by Mike Holzheimer
Photos by NEOSPORTSPIX.COM
The 'Lil Brown Jug stays on Hilliard Boulevard at Westlake High School.
The traditional rivalry game matching Bay against Westlake, with the symbolic trophy (jug) awaiting the winner, seems to always bring the fans to their feet.
The 2013 version, played at Lou Duchez Field on the campus of Westlake High School Friday night, certainly had its share of big plays and exciting moments for all spectators to enjoy. In the end, it would be the home team Demons making just enough of those big plays on both sides of the football to defeat the Rockets, 20-14.
"Hey, I know I had fun tonight," said Bay head coach Ryan Gorius.
"This is always a big game for both schools,” he said. “My kids played their hearts out tonight. I couldn't be more proud of them. We were in our first two games, and we'll be in the rest of our games this season. We know they will all be close games."
Friday's non-league contest proved to be close as well on the scoreboard.
The Rockets took their opening drive and marched the football all the way down to the Westlake 30. On a fourth down pass play, Bay senior quarterback Jake Best completed a 10-yard toss to senior tight end Ryan Sinnema. However, the visiting team needed 11 yards to keep the drive going.
Westlake's initial possessions proved not very favorable as finding the end zone. Sophomore running back JaQuan Hardy was picking up significant yardage on the ground, while senior quarterback Kent Axcell was running well out of the pocket. Still, no points found their way onto the Westlake side of the scoreboard.
Bay attempted to strike first, but Alec White's 37-yard field goal attempt never quite reached an elevation that coincides with splitting the uprights. So after one quarter of play, Westlake and Bay were scoreless.
"In a rivalry game, you expect things to go unexpected," said Westlake head coach Mark Campo. "It's the little things that count when you play big games against your rival. We knew if we did things right, good things would come our way."
The good things came for Westlake quickly to start the second quarter.
After Axcell connected with senior wide receiver Adam Sandor to the tune of a 12-yard passing play, the Demons marched 67 yards on nine plays. The drive ended with Axcell firing a 7-yard touchdown pass to senior running back Paul Angala with 9:17 to go in the first half. Senior Dakota Swisher converted the PAT giving the home team the lead at 7-0.
Bay didn't waste time to even the score as senior Will Wilson returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards to even the contest at 7-7. Wilson found a crease along the left sideline and simply outran the coverage, including Swisher. Wilson turned on the jets and raced past the Demon kicker en route to the end zone.
As the first 24 minutes were coming to a close, Westlake's defense got a fumble recovery from junior Chad Bata, while junior defensive end Cameron Brown recorded a pair of quarterback sacks.
Bay, though, stood tall defensively in the closing moments of quarter two with a huge goal line stand with the Rocket defense stopping Westlake's Michael Fikter just shy of the goal line on a fourth down play.
"That was big," noted Gorius, referring to his defensive line answering the challenge right before halftime. "Westlake has a lot of offensive weapons. We stood tall not letting them grab the momentum before halftime."
Campo's team, though, took momentum back late in the third quarter, with senior Darrick Moore scoring on a 4-yard TD scamper with 4:52 remaining in the period. The score was set up by a Hardy 13-yard run and a 7-yard pickup on a QB keeper by Axcell.
Bay could not answer the Westlake scoring drive as sophomore quarterback John Koz came under center guiding the Rockets to the Demon side of the field. But a punt gave Westlake the football back as the home team took a 14-7 lead into the final 12 minutes of play.
On a third down and seven play from the Westlake 23, Axcell, scrambling out of the pocket, bought enough time to find Moore getting ahead of the Bay secondary. Axcell let loose with a bomb that fell softly into Moore's hands for a 77-yard touchdown pass with the fourth period just 17 seconds old.
A high snap from center nullified the PAT, giving the Demons a 20-7 advantage.
The Westlake defense was doing a great job of pitching a shutout on the scoreboard, with Bay's only points coming by way of special teams. But Gorius' defense finally came up with a big play as Jake Best intercepted an Axcell pass, putting the Rockets in business at the Demon 30.
Best got the ball closer to the goal line by way of a 13-yard run, while his brother Nick, a sophomore running back, did the scoring honors by racing into the end zone from three yards away. that pulled the Rockets to within six points, 20-14, with 3:59 left to play.
Bay needed another stop defensively, but it didn't come.
With Axcell and Hardy running the football, the Demons were picking up first downs inside of two minutes to play, forcing Bay to use its final two timeouts. Stopping the clock forced Westlake to punt the football away and allowed the Rockets one last shot at a potential game-winning touchdown.
The visitors, though, were pinned deep in their own territory. Jake Best, from his own 31, had three passes fall incomplete. On fourth down, Sandor sacked the Bay quarterback to officially end the contest.
"We have a lot to clean up this week," noted Campo, who saw his team bounce back positively after a Week One loss to North Ridgeville. "I told the guys to enjoy this one because they earned it.
Gorius believed his team earned a lot of respect tonight.
"You give credit to Westlake, but my guys hung tough," said the Bay coach. "We just needed to make some key stops in the second half.
“I always tell the guys 'what if.' If we had just done this or that, things could have been different. We just have to stay on course. We're not that far from turning these tough losses into big wins," he added.
Axcell threw for over 200 yards in leading his team to victory in front of the home crowd.
"He has a gun for an arm," said Campo, describing Axcell's many takents from the quarterback position. "That arm strength draws a lot of respect from the opposing defenses."
Hardy earned respect as well rushing for nearly 100 yards, while picking up key first downs. Sandor was a versatile threat by way of pass receptions and tackles for loss, while Brown was putting pressure on the bay offensive line for all four quarters.
Westlake (1-1) hosts Youngstown East on Sept. 13, while Bay will seek its first win of 2013 by hosting Fairview the same night.
(You can follow Mike Holzheimer on his new Twitter account @MikeHolzheimer. And follow our website @BeAFanatic)