Story by Lisa Gayle Grayson
Photos by Ryan Kaczmarski
To say Westlake's football team handed its opponent the win Friday night isn't cliche. It's an understatement.
The host Demons turned over the ball six times in the Southwestern Conference contest, and Berea-Midpark graciously accepted their generosity. The Titans spun four of those snafus into touchdowns en route to their 42-0 win at Lou Duchez Field.
For the night, Justin Harris ran in a pair of touchdowns, Joey Bachie caught a couple, Shawn Epps ran in a fifth score and Matt Owens found the end zone on an 80-yard pick-6. Connor Kahl was a perfect 6-for-6 in PATs as the junior bettered the school record for most consecutive extra points kicked in a game.
"We've got to play mistake-free football to have a chance," said Westlake coach Mark Campo, whose team slid to 3-5 overall and 1-3 in the SWC. "We've got young guys that are stepping up playing varsity football for the first time at some key positions."
On the other hand, Titans coach Ray Hradek couldn't have been more pleased with the keen efforts by his defense, especially in a game when his team struggled offensively at times.
Berea-Midpark (7-1, 4-0) was unusually sluggish out of the gates this week. It did not get on the board until 10:07 in the second quarter when Owens returned an interception 80 yards.
Titans junior quarterback Nick Gassman, who entered the contest averaging 242 yards a game, was limited to just 74 yards passing and two touchdowns as he went 7-of-18 for the night.
"At first, we started out slow," Hradek said.
"I'm kind of glad we got it out of our system, if it had to happen. I don't know why yet. We have to figure that out, but if it's once and done, we're good," he said.
Along with its defense, Berea-Midpark's other highlight producers of the game were Harris and senior defensive back Jared Paul, who recorded two interceptions.
A week after taking over as one of Gassman's top receivers in the overtime win against North Olmsted, the Harris got in a leg workout. The senior, and game's leading rusher, carried the ball 11 times for 193 yards and a pair touchdowns.
One was a 12-yard run late in the first half. The other was a 54-yard scamper in the third quarter.
Westlake remained competitive throughout the game, but was hindered by inexperience.
"They're giving it everything they've got," Campo said. "They're making plays. But like young guys do, they do make mistakes."
It didn't help that senior running back Chad Bata left the contest with a left knee injury, which was sustained on the first play of the second quarter. Up to that point, he had four carries for 38 yards.
That left most of the running responsibilities to sophomore quarterback Tariq Beach. Along with going 8-of-14 for 54 yards and two interceptions, Beach moved the ball 120 yards on 22 carries.
"He's a really good athlete," Campo said. "He's a sophomore and has a different skill set. We had to change our identity a little bit and go with his strengths."
Beach and the rest of the Demons' efforts, though, were negated by costly the turnovers. Westlake had three promising series, including two in the second half.
The biggest groaner came with five minutes to go in the game. Trailing 35-0 with the clock running and the ball on the 2-yard line, Beach fumbled, and a pack on Titans pounced on the loose pigskin. Five plays later, Berea-Midpark scored its final touchdown of the night, a 50-yard run by Epps.
Westlake had a big drive earlier in the second half only to lose the ball when cornerback Caleb Samol recovered a fumble by Q'darr Robinson.
The Demons' Billy Dreher faked a punt on fourth and four and ran the ball 20 yards to give his team new life. Westlake moved the ball to the Titans 34 before the fumble was recovered by Samol.
Up to that point, however, Westlake was already in a deep hole as it trailed 21-0 at the half. Along with Owens' interception return, Berea-Midpark also scored on a 31-yard pass to Bachie in the second quarter and Harris' 12-yard run.
Harris' score came six plays after Bachie intercepted senior Matt DuPerow, who lined up under center for that one snap.
"We've got to drive the football down the field," Campo said. "We can't make up for a miscue here or there. We'll get better. We'll stay at it."
While the Demons travel to Amherst next week to face that conference opponent, Berea-Midpark heads to Brecksville for Week 9 action. That game, the Titans' final SWC tilt of the season, has conference title implications.
The Bees will look to defend their championship, while Berea-Midpark is gunning for its first SWC crown since Berea and Midpark joined the league in 2005.
"I think, No. 1, we'll be back on turf again, which is cool. We just have to execute from there," Hradek said. "We'll probably put more pressure on them in practice, verbally and repping it out in practice."
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Click on the camera below to view Ryan's photos from this game: