By MIKE SHAFFER
For the Star Beacon
SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP —
The South football team was brilliant in all three areas of the game — offense, defense and special teams — in defeating Lakeside 45-7 on Friday night at Lakeside Stadium.
The Rebels (8-1, 4-1 PAC) offense piled up 361 yards while the defense held the Dragons (3-5,1-4 PAC) to just 158. On special teams, they had a kick-off return for a touchdown and kicker Matt Nelson was a perfect 6 of 6 on extra points and split the up-rights from 41 yards away on a field goal.
"There's no question that is something we've been working real hard on as a team," Willoughby South coach Matt Duffy said. "Tonight we got the turnovers on defense, special teams made some big play and the offense was able to do what it does."
For Lakeside coach Frank Hall, he was fully aware the challenge of playing the PAC power on homecoming would present.
"We looked at it, we talked to the kids about it and we accepted the challenge," Hall said. "If you you want to be the best, you have to play the best and you have to beat the best. The're a great football team and we knew that going in."
The Lakeside defense looked especially up for the challenge as they stuffed the Rebels on a three and out sparked by a sack from Nick Meola on the game's opening possesion.
The Dragons defense was equal to the task again it's second time on the field when the Rebels gambled going on a fourth and 7 from their own 29. The Lakeside defense got the stop once again.
The offense then used one play to capitalize when Tyler Loftus hit Johnny Evans down the right side for a 29 yard score to give Lakeside a 7-0 lead.
The momentum was short lived though.
Dylan Caruso returned the ensuing kick-off 84 yards for a touchdown to tie the score.
Later in the quarter Caruso took a screen pass from quarterback Russell Porter and eluded would be tacklers for a 58 yard touchdwon giving the Rebels the lead.
"Dylan is just a great player," Duffy said. "He's one of our team captains, he has great hands, he works hard, he has some quicks and he's just a complete player. He's a fun guy to coach and he's been a big time playmaker for us all season,"
The South offensive attack was split right down the middle with 180 yards passing to 181 rushing. Porter completed 8 of 13 passes for the 180 yards with a pair of touchdown strikes.
"Russ does what he does, he manages the game very well and he can really rip it. He's a tough kid, we're balanced and he's balanced and he does things very well for us."
On the ground it was Shawn Mackey who was the workhorse piling up 127 yards on 22 carries.
"He gets better as he goes," Duffy said. "He had only two carries coming into the game against Madison last week and he had over 200 yards for us. He's a tough kid, he gets a lot of yards after contact and he's really been a good one for us."
If the game had a turning point, it came in the second quarter when the Rebels elected to go for it on fourth and 11 from the Lakeside 26 yardline. Porter found Andre Smith wide open setting up a first a goal at the four yard line.
"It was a missed coverage," Hall said. "We came up when we should have been deep on it. The kid that it happened to, he's a first year kid, just experience, experience, experience. He won't do that next year, I promise you that."
Two plays later Mackey took the ball in from a yard out for the score.
Mackey score his second touchdown later in the quarter to make it 28-7 at halftime.
In the second half the Rebels got a 31 yard touchdown run from Smith and Porter connected with Reggie Kendig on an 11 yard TD pass.
Loftus led the Dragons completing 5 of 14 passes for 49 yards, he also had 19 rushes for 49 yards.
The Dragons were penalized just four times in the game, but were haunted by a pair of fumbles and some bad snaps from center.
"We're not one for excuses," Hall said. "Our kids gave us everything they had and I'm very proud of them tonight. It's never as bad as it looks and it's never as good as it looks. We knew we needed to win that tunover battle to get the win tonight. It went the other way and it cost us. We really made them fight into the second half. What I'm most proud of is we're working on things and the kids are taking it and putting it back on the field."
Shaffer is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.