Bees Sting Rangers in Football Opener
When he took the job this past winter, Lakewood Football Coach Tom Hannan knew that his top priority was to improve a defense that gave up over 40 points per game last season. The good news: that unit gave up only 14 points Friday night to a powerful Medina team on the road. The bad news: the offense and special teams gave up a combined 16 points in a 30-14 loss to the Bees.
The game is a stark turnaround from the Rangers games against Medina in the previous two seasons. They lost those matchups by a combined score of 111-13, and were physically manhandled both times. Hannan’s emphasis on offseason conditioning paid dividends – unlike previous seasons, the team did not wear down during the second half. The defense, which was often playing with a short field, performed well throughout the game. Special teams gave up a punt return, but also had bright spots. The offense was a disaster in the first half, not getting a first down until only five seconds were left before halftime. It found a groove in the second half, mustering two nice touchdown drives -- albeit with Medina using many reserve players.
The game started on a positive note, with senior kicker/soccer player Attila Nagy kicking a touchback on the opening play. The Bees were held to a three and out in their first possession, a sign that the defense would be stout. Medina was forced to punt, and after that the Rangers had their first major error. On their first play, they tried a halfback option play. The ball was intercepted by Medina and returned for a touchdown. Despite the solid defensive start, the Rangers trailed 7-0 only one minute into the game. Their next drive resulted in a “three and out”, and when Medina got the ball back they quickly moved it to the Rangers 33 yard line. It was beginning to feel like a repeat of the previous two Bee wins over Lakewood.
The defense stiffened, forcing Medina into another punt. Instead of falling behind by two scores, the Rangers will still very much alive. But then the second major gaffe happened. The Ranger offense was forced into another “three and out”, and the ensuing punt was returned for a touchdown by Medina. Halfway through the first quarter, Medina led 14-0 despite the fact their offense hadn’t reached the end zone. The pattern continued the rest of the first quarter: Lakewood went “three and out” on its next drive, and Medina marched the ball down to the Rangers 18 yard line. Lakewood’s defense tightened, stopping the Bees on downs. After one period the score stood 14-0.
The Bees drove all the way to the Lakewood ten yard line early in the second period, but fumbled the ball after a hard hit. The Rangers recovered the ball, keeping the game at 14-0 with 8:34 left in the half. The offense struggled again, and the Medina offense cashed in on its next possession. Senior quarterback Gavin Montgomery hit junior Chris Kelly with a ten yard touchdown pass, stretching the lead to 21-0 with 5:22 left in the second quarter. The Lakewood offense started its next drive at its own 13 yard line – field position was a major factor in the unit’s first half struggles. Medina forced a safety, making it 23-0. The Rangers held them on the next possession, but Medina scored one more touchdown with one minute remaining in the half. Senior Nick Gagne, who had been a workhorse for the Bees, ran for an eight yard touchdown to make it 30-0.
The OHSAA “running clock” was in effect to start the second half. The teams exchanged punts to begin the third quarter. On its second drive of the half, the Ranger offense found its flow. Senior quarterback Austin Mahar converted a key “fourth and 2” with a strong six yard run from the Lakewood 29 yard line. Junior running back Will Adams, who had been held in check in the first half, caught a 45 yard pass from Mahar to take the ball to the Medina 22. After two quality runs, he scored the touchdown on his third consecutive carry. He spun out of the grasp of a Medina defender to enter the endzone. Nagy followed with the extra point, making the score 30-7 with 9:54 left in the game. Since the margin was cut to less than thirty, the “running clock rule” stopped.
Lakewood held the Medina offense, then got the ball and went on its best drive of the day. They went 95 yards in seven plays in just over three minutes to score another touchdown. Many Medina defensive reserves were in the game, but the Rangers showed crisp timing during the series. Senior fullback Jared Naida was key to the drive, catching a 25 yard pass and scoring the TD on an 8 yard run. Nagy again followed with the conversion, and the score was 30-14 with 3:48 left in the game. That ended the scoring, and Medina walked away with a hard-earned win.
The Rangers next contest will be against Amherst in the conference opener. The game will be at 7pm Friday at First Federal Lakewood Stadium. Although they were disappointed to lose tonight’s game, they showed major progress in some key areas, and have confidence going forward. Lakewood’s last win was at FFL Stadium against Amherst in the final week of the 2015 season. Hannan said it best to his team after the game, “We’re not going 0-10!”
Mike Deneen has extensive experience covering sports and community stories for the Lakewood Observer. Mike has been a Senior Industry Analyst for the Freedonia Group in Cleveland, Ohio, since 1998. He has appeared on CNBC’s Closing Bell, NPR’s MarketPlace and has been quoted multiple times in The Wall Street Journal. He has made multiple guest appearances on ESPN Cleveland radio. Mike also writes for Inside Northwestern, a website that covers Northwestern Wildcat Athletics. You can reach him on Twitter at @MikeDeneen1