EASTLAKE—It took nearly 15 years but North finally ended its losing streak to rival South on Friday at Nick Carter Stadium. The Rangers overcame an early 16-point deficit to beat the Rebels, 37-29.
North last beat South on Oct. 3, 2003.
“It’s big,” said North coach Shawn Dodd. “I think it just gets a monkey off the back of the community, not necessarily us as coaches or players. If there ever was a group that really didn’t truly care about it and didn’t feel the pressure it was this group.”
Even if the Rangers didn’t feel the pressure, the Rebels certainly applied it early on as Justin Grosel threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Rico Small on the second play of the game and the Rebels added a 20-yard field goal and a 43-yard touchdown pass from Grosel to Xavier Hopps to build a 16-0 first quarter lead.
“When we got down early there was no panic,” Dodd said. “I think in years past a lot of kids were told they would be the one (to end the losing streak to South) and there was a little bit of pressure.”
North scored 30 unanswered points from the second quarter through the third.
Brett Payne broke a 40-yard touchdown run with 10:11 left in the first half and Dylan Froelich connected with Cameron Proctor on the two-point conversion as the Rangers cut their deficit in half.
The Rangers avoided a disaster when they fumbled away a punt at their own 29 but the defense held and Payne capped the next drive with a one-yard touchdown run. Froelich’s two-point conversion tied the game with 47 seconds left in the first half.
“Our offensive line started to really take over and our defensive line really stepped up,” Dodd said.
Payne, who finished with 177 yards on 27 carries, gave North its first lead with a seven-yard touchdown run with 4:18 left in the third quarter. Ryan Volk added the extra point to make it 23-16.
“We couldn’t let (the 14-game losing streak) bother us,” Payne said. “We haven’t played here for 14 years. It didn’t matter that they won 14 in a row. We said this year we were going to win it, and it happened.”
Froelich added a one-yard scoring run early in the fourth to push North’s lead to 30-16.
“It could have been lopsided one way or the other or it could have been a nail-biter. We weren’t sure what to expect. We knew that they had some playmakers on offense and we thought we could do some things offensively running the football,” Dodd said. “I think the big difference maker was we started to double Rico Small and tried to eliminate him from the game and I think our guys did a good job of that. Our defensive staff gets credit for that adjustment.”
The Rebels responded with a Grosel to Hopps five-yard touchdown pass to pull to within 30-23 with 9:04 left to play.
With the momentum on their side, the Rebels forced a North field goal try. A bad snap allowed South to take over possession at its own 42 but Froelich picked off a pass and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown to give North a 37-23 lead with 4:21 remaining.
“That was a play we repped all week in practice,” Dodd said of Froelich’s interception. “I was proud of those guys for executing something that we prepared for.”
Grosel, who completed 20-of-34 passes for 362 yards, threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game to Drew Schoeppler to pull the Rebels to within 37-29 with 1:41 remaining but the Rangers held on for the win.
“I thought the difference in the game was the way our front four played on defense,” Dodd said. “They were in the backfield all night long, got a lot of hits on the quarterback, rushed some throws, got some sacks and obviously, the big pick-six.”
Froelich finished the game 3-of-6 passing for 20 yards and also ran for 63 yards on 17 carries with a rushing touchdown and the pick-six. He also played on defense.
“He’s just a tough, tough kid,” Dodd said of Froelich. “He wants the ball. He wants to be out there in the moment. Offense, defense, special teams, he does not want to come off the field and I respect him for that. He’s a football player. He’s an old-school kind of kid that just wants to be out there and have fun whether it’s running the ball, throwing the ball, punting the ball, playing defense. He’s worked hard in the offseason to get his body physically ready. He’s one of our strongest kids in the weight room. I don’t know how many quarterbacks bench press 320 or whatever it is that he benches and he squats a house. He really has done a tremendous job. I couldn’t be more proud of him. He deserves the success he had tonight.”
The 14-game losing streak to the Rebels certainly weighed on the community over the years, but that’s now in the rearview mirror and the Rangers finally hold bragging rights over their rivals.
“Our kids in this community, we try to embrace the fact that we’re a tough community, we’re tough kids,” Dodd said. “They’ve been through a lot in the years that we’ve been here, some off the field stuff with parents passing and things like that. They’ve had to overcome a lot so when you think about a football loss or being down in a football game, it’s really not that big a deal or that important in the scheme of things. Obviously, we want to win when we get out here, that’s the goal and we want to win state titles. These kids are just resilient. They just keep coming back, they keep fighting. They show up every day. They worked hard in the offseason and they’re out there in the community doing the right things. If there’s a group that deserves to have some success it’s this group of kids. They really do the right thing.”