Rangers Beat Westlake for First Win Since 2015
The Lakewood football program had a memorable “Friday the 13th” in Westlake, defeating the Demons 28-25 to get its first victory of the season. The win also snapped a 17 game losing streak that dated back two years; and it was the first-ever road win for Lakewood in the Southwestern Conference. Jubilant players doused Hannan with Gatorade as the final seconds ticked off…..then went into the Lakewood stands to celebrate with Ranger students and fans.
Both teams entered the game with 0-7 records, so each side felt it had a strong chance to win. Lakewood opened the game perfectly, scoring a touchdown on the first offensive drive. Sophomore Milan Jackson had a nice kick return to set up the offense at their own 37 yard line. Lakewood went on a 63 yard touchdown drive, completed on eight plays (all running). Senior Daevon Hannible finished the drive with a 21 yard touchdown run with 9:31 left in the first quarter. Junior Justin Crislip added the extra point to make it 7-0. It was the first time all season that the Rangers scored on their first possession.
The defense forced a Westlake punt on the ensuing possession, and Ranger fans were beginning to feel some confidence. However, on the first play of their second offensive drive, disaster struck. A bad snap backed Lakewood to its own five yard line. Then two plays later a fumble gave the ball to the Demons at the Lakewood eight yard line. The Ranger defense made a strong stand, preventing a Westlake touchdown and forcing the Demons to settle for a 27 yard field goal. Lakewood led 7-3 with nearly five minutes remaining in the first quarter. The score held for the remainder of the quarter. Lakewood was able to move the ball, but couldn’t muster any points. Westlake struggled to put together any consistent drives against a very stubborn Ranger defensive unit.
Disaster struck again early in the second quarter. Another Ranger fumble gave the ball to Westlake on the Rangers one yard line. Demon quarterback Billy Blood (aptly named for the “Friday the 13th” game) quickly ran in a touchdown to put his team ahead 10-7. The Lakewood offense responded, putting together a 45 yard touchdown drive that was bookended by Hannible. He made a nice kick return to set the Rangers up on a short field, then scored the touchdown on a 21 yard reception from senior quarterback Austin Mahar. Senior Attila Nagy added the extra point to make the score 14-10 Lakewood with 7:08 left in the first half.
The Rangers made another big play on the ensuing kickoff, recovering a fumble by the Demon returner. They had the ball at the Westlake 43 yard line, but were unable to score. Westlake then drove into Lakewood territory on a 42 yard run by Blood. The Ranger defense again stiffened, forcing and recovering a fumble at their own 27 yard line. Junior Will Adams would cap the next Ranger drive with a 50 yard touchdown with only 1:18 remaining in the half. Crislip added the extra point, and Lakewood led 21-10 at the intermission.
Optimism among Ranger fans swelled at halftime, as Lakewood dominated the game in most statistical categories. However, nothing comes easy, and Westlake was not going to go quietly. The Demons took the second half kickoff and scored a touchdown in only 85 seconds. Running back JJ Coleman had the key play of the drive, a 55 yard run. Westlake made a successful two point conversion to cut the lead to 21-18 with 10:25 remaining in the third quarter. Ranger fans were getting nervous, but Hannible quickly put them at ease. He ran for a 72 yard touchdown on the first play of the next Ranger drive. Nagy’s extra point extended the lead to 28-18 with 10:04 left in the third.
The Ranger defense took over in the second half, not allowing any scoring drives by Westlake. The Demons moved to the Ranger 29 yard line midway through the third quarter, but gave up the ball on downs. That would be their last serious offensive threat of the game. The score remained 28-18 after the third quarter, as the Ranger offense was unable to get a “knockout” score to put the game away. Then, with just over four minutes left in the game, another disaster struck.
Lakewood had the ball on a third and 17 at the Westlake 27 yard line. Coleman, who also plays defensive back for the Demons, intercepted a Mahar pass and ran it back 73 yards for a Westlake touchdown. The seemingly safe lead was now only three points, and the Demons had momentum. Ranger fans feared there might be a strange “Browns-style” meltdown in the works. However, the team kept its wits. Ranger junior Caleb Watson recovered the ensuing onside kick with four mnutes left in the game. Lakewood ran the clock out with its ground game, gaining some crucial first downs to maintain poseession. Hannible and Adams, who each had well over 100 yards rushing in the game, were keys in the final drive.
The win sparked wide smiles all along the Ranger sideline, as nearly two years of frustration were washed away. “I’m so proud of you guys,” Hannan told his team after the game, “You guys earned it.” Hannan said the win was an important step in the program’s development. “The first step to learning how to win is to win,” he said. Now they have done it. He feels the victory will also help rejuvenate the squad for the final two weeks of the season. The team returns home Friday to face Midview at First Federal Stadium at 7 p.m. It will be Senior Night, where senior players, cheerleaders, and band members will be recognized for their contributions to the program.
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