Story by Mike Holzheimer
Photos by NEOSPORTSPIX
All things considered, the Bay football team had its "best" performance of the season...
...Jake Best, that is, the senior quarterback for the Rockets who simply willed his team toward that seemingly elusive first victory of the 2013 season.
With Best giving a very gritty performance on both sides of the football, Bay notched its first win Friday night by defeating Lakewood, 21-7, in West Shore Conference action.
It was Homecoming Night for the Ranger players, students and fans who gathered inside First Federal Lakewood Stadium. It would be the visiting Rockets, however, doing all of the celebrating in dancing its way into the win column for the first time in five games.
"We finally gave a four-quarter performance," said a very happy Ryan Gorius, the head coach at Bay, who could not disguise his smile as he watched his squad run over toward the Rocket marching band section in the stands to share with them such a joyous moment.
"I thought everyone played a hand in this one," Gorius said. "As for Jake, well, that's the kind of effort he can give all of the time."
Such an effort did not escape the notice of Lakewood head coach Ron Lewis.
"That No. 11 can play," said Lewis, referring to the number worn by the Bay quarterback. "We knew he could do some damage both on the ground and through the air.
"Our biggest problem tonight were turnovers and penalties. It seemed we were always looking at a first-and-20 or a first-and-25. You can't be successful on offense when you put yourself in those situations," he said.
After two brilliant runs from scrimmage by Lakewood junior running back Casimier Mitchell totaling 50 yards, those "situations" Lewis was talking about surfaced quickly. Three consecutive penalties pushed Lakewood's offense back farther on the field than any amount of pressure a Bay defender could have administered.
Bay wasn't without its share of mistakes at the outset as well as the Rockets were flagged twice during their initial possession on offense. But Gorius' defense shined brightly with Best, who from his linebacker position, picked off a pass thrown by Lakewood junior quarterback Peyton Graham.
After a quick three-and-out by the Ranger offense, Bay marched down the field to put the game's first score on the board. Following a huge 31-yard pass completion by Best to junior receiver Danny Heideloff, Bess went to the running game calling his own number three times totaling 34 yards.
On third down and goal, Best snuck the ball over the goal line from a yard out, giving Bay a 6-0 lead with just 28 seconds remaining before the intermission.
Bay was able to take advantage with its ground game, while Lakewood could not. Mitchell, a very quick back for the Rangers, had 121 yards on 16 carries in the first half. Best was very versatile for the Rockets during the first 24 minutes running for 41 yards and throwing for 45 to account for the lone rushing TD of the first half.
"It's tough for me to take Jake off the field," said Gorius. "He does a lot of things for us. But when he has to come off for a rest or due to an injury, John Koz does a very nice job for us."
Koz had to take a few snaps during the course of the evening as Best went to the turf twice with an injury. But, following the mandatory rule of sitting out for at least one play after coming off with an injury, Best was right back in the huddle doing what he does, well...best.
Bay junior cornerback Jacob McMiller did his best on defense by recovering a Lakewood fumble that led to another Rocket score. A 43-yard pass play from Best to Rex Sunahara got the football down to the Lakewood 29. Best involved his brother Nick on the next passing play by hooking up with younger brother for 13 yards.
Jake Best would then score his second TD of the night, another 1-yard scamper giving the visitors a 14-0 lead with 5:35 left in the third stanza.
Mitchell finally gave the home fans something to cheer about as he ripped off an electrifying 57-yard run en route to Lakewood's first touchdown of the night. Jameson Foran's point after cut the Ranger deficit to just seven points, 14-7, with 4:19 to go in the period.
The home team tried a pooch-like onside kick, but Bay recovered at the 30-yard line. It was time for the Ranger defense to answer the call.
Sophomore defensive back Michael Goolsby answered the phone as Best attempted to dial a pass play. But Goolsby intercepted Best's toss, giving Lewis' team another chance to tie the contest heading into the final period of play.
Bay's defense, though, was up for the challenge and turned Lakewood away again. On fourth down from its own 36, Lakewood rolled the dice and went for it, only to have Graham's pass fall short of the mark. Defensively, Bay brought the house and rushed Graham into a tough throw.
After turning the ball over on downs, Bay wasted little time in creating a little separation from itself and Lakewood on the scoreboard. And to provide such breathing room, who else but Best as the Bay quarterback scored his third touchdown of the night by scampering 20 yards into the end zone.
Hoping to get a little closer, and perhaps looking for a miracle, Lakewood tried again to strike quickly. Graham's pass, though was intercepted by Tyler Campbell, who made a terrific play on the football jumping perfectly into the air for the pass theft.
And as Lakewood used its final timeouts, Bay picked up a pair of first downs and lined up in victory formation to leave the field of battle with that first "W."
"I'm so proud of the kids," Gorius said. "Dropping the first four games, it would have been easy to not come out and lay everything on the line.
"Tonight, they proved they can do what it takes to win those close games. We give all the credit to coach Lewis and the Lakewood team. They were prepared, but so were we. We won the turnover battle tonight, and that usually leads to good things," he said.
Lewis admitted such a battle lost didn't bode well for his team.
"We came into the game wanting to win the turnover battle, keep penalties at a minimum and score more than once," he said. "Obviously, we didn't do all three."
Mitchell certainly did all he could to keep Lakewood in the ballgame by rushing for nearly 200 yards with the Rangers' lone touchdown.
Bay (1-4, 1-1) hosts North Olmsted on Friday Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. Lakewood (1-4, 1-1) travels to Rocky River the same night for a 7 p.m. ballgame.
(You can follow Mike Holzheimer on Twitter @MikeHolzheimer. Follow our website too @BeAFanatic)