Rangers Beat Westlake for First Win of the Season
Since the beginning of training camp, new Lakewood football coach Tom Thome has challenged his team to get better each week. It paid off on Friday night at First Federal Lakewood Stadium, where the Rangers defeated Westlake 35-26 for their first win of the 2018 season. The Rangers turned in a very gutsy performance, overcoming both the Demons and cold, damp conditions. The rain- soaked crowd had a raucous celebration, as this was the first home victory for the Rangers since the 2015 season.
The evening did not get off to an encouraging start. Westlake scored first on a 26 yard touchdown pass from Jacob May to Kevin Walls with 8:30 remaining in the first quarter. But unlike previous weeks, the Rangers responded with their own scoring drive. They marched 71 yards on 13 plays, capped by a two yard DJ Jackson run, to score a touchdown with 5:36 remaining. The extra point failed, so the Demons held a narrow 7-6 lead. The Rangers then popped a short “sky kick” on the ensuing kickoff, which was fumbled by Westlake and recovered by Lakewood at the Demons 41 yard line. Lakewood quarterback Albert Wilhelmy soon hit Phoenix Jouriles with a 44 yard touchdown pass, giving Lakewood its first lead of the season. Jouriles also caught the successful 2 point conversion pass from Wilhelmy, making the score 14-7 with 3:57 remaining in the first quarter. The Ranger crowd, which included many grade school kids attending for “Youth Night,” was electrified.
Rain began falling in the second quarter, and both defenses kept the score 14-7 until late in the half. The Demons tied the game at 14-14 with a five yard touchdown run by James Coleman with 3:13 on the clock. Each team failed to move the ball on its next possession, and it appeared the game would be tied at halftime. However, Will Rosenberger backed the Demons to their 3 yard line with a punt in the closing seconds of the period. Westlake tried to run out the clock, but Lakewood forced a fumble which was recovered by Jouriles in the endzone. Ranger kicker Justin Crislip added the extra point, and the Rangers led 21-14 at halftime.
The Ranger defense was stout in the third quarter, led by strong tacklers like Spencer Reynolds and Nate Bilski. Kyren Jefferson intercepted a Demon pass in the endzone on the opening drive, thwarting a potential tying touchdown. Lakewood extended the lead to 28-14 with 3:55 remaining in the third quarter, as Wilhelmy hit Milan Jackson for a 35 yard touchdown pass. Westlake responded with its own touchdown drive in the final minute of the period, but the Ranger special teams stepped up to block the extra point. That made the score 28-20 going into the fourth quarter.
DJ Jackson, who was the workhorse back for Lakewood in the second half, extended the lead early in the fourth quarter with an eight yard touchdown run. Crislip added the PAT to make the score 35-20 with 10:27 left in the game. Despite the continuing rain, the crowd’s excitement level continued to grow. Lakewood’s defense held on the next series, and then the offense turned to DJ Jackson to run out the clock. Westlake scored a touchdown with 3:00 left in the game, but a failed two-point conversion kept the margin at 35-26. Kyren Jefferson intercepted a Demon pass in the closing seconds to maintain the nine point margin and send the crowd into a frenzy.
As the final seconds ticked off, Ranger players gave Thome a “Gatorade Bath” and stormed the field to celebrate. The team ran over to thank the student section and band, and many students came onto the field to celebrate. “What a gutsy performance,” Thome told his team after the game. “We knew it was going to be a 48 minute battle.” He expressed pride in his entire team, which worked hard all week to prepare. He singled out Crislip’s “sky” and pooch kickoffs, which kept the Demons return team off balance throughout the evening.
Lakewood (1-7 on the season) next travels to Midview on Friday for a 7pm kickoff. The Middies, who lost to Olmsted Falls 62-27 on Friday, are also 1-7. The Rangers will return home on Friday, October 26 to face North Ridgeville on Senior Night. That game is also scheduled for a 7pm kickoff.
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