PAINESVILLE TOWNSHIP —
The Riverside Beavers were close... this close, in fact, to staring a 1-3 start to the 2013 season right in the face.
Trailing on the road against a rejuvenated Lakeside squad, 20-7, in the third quarter, coach Dave Bors’ Beavers found something.
And that “something” led to Riverside outscoring the Dragons, 37-6, the rest of the way en route to an impressive 44-26 triumph in their Premier Athletic Conference opener.
And as Riverside (2-2, 1-0) prepares to host winless North (0-4, 0-1) on Friday night at Riverside Stadium, Bors can appreciate what his boys did last week.
“It was an exciting game, where both teams had to continually try and overcome adversity,” he said. “It was really as simple as that. Lakeside did a nice job. Both teams made some big plays and both teams had some goofups. We simply made a few more plays down the stretch.
“I'm very proud of the way our guys responded — they played all 48 minutes with extreme passion and effort. Our guys continue to do a great job of responding to challenges and not getting all freaked out when things aren't going our way.
“To be down 20-7 in the third quarter and be able to outscore them 37-6 the rest of the way is a product of all the hard work these young men put in and the trust they are gaining in each other.”
Riverside now turns its attention to North, which fell to visiting Chardon last week, 35-0, and has been outscored by a whopping 196-21 margin in its first four games.
Riverside leads the all-time series with North, 9-6, including a 28-10 triumph last season in Eastlake.
“They are traditionally a well-coached team,” Bors said. “They appear to be going through some growing pains right now. They lost a real weapon on offense last year in (wide receiver) Ben Josapovich, so they are trying to find a rhythm offensively.”
Their best playmaker on offense this year, (quarterback-wide receiver) Anton Vrbec, got injured in Week 1, so we don't know if we'll see him or not.
“On offense, they are a spread team that has a balance of both run and pass. On defense, they are going with a 3-3 stack. It looks like they don't have a great deal of size, but they are pretty athletic. Thus, they only have three defensive linemen in the game at any given time; the rest are runners and hitters.”
Bors said if he returns this week, Vrbec will be a focus.
“If Anton Vrbec is back, he'll need to be keyed on every play,” he said. “He can play quarterback or receiver. He has a cannon for an arm and is a huge, athletic target at receiver.
“If he's not back, they really have a balance of guys to get the ball to as they spread the wealth pretty well.”
The Beavers, who had been plagued by injuries earlier this season — including the loss of senior quarterback Maxx Brubaker (shoulder) for the last game and a half — are getting closer to being at full strength.
“Other than Colin Baldwin, who is out for the season with a knee injury, most of our guys are getting close to being cleared to play,” Bors said. “We'll see how the week of practice plays out, but for now, I'm not going to list anyone as out as I want to be optimistic that we're clearing the injury hurdle from early in the season.”
While playing without Brubaker has not been easy, the play of his replacement, Nick Fitzgerald, has helped to ease the Beavers’ pain.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound sophomore completed 11 of 23 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns — without an interception — last week in the win at Lakeside.
“It's been refreshing to see Nick come into the situation he has been presented with and do as well as he has,” Bors said.
“My staff and I are hardly surprised, however. Nick has been one of the hardest workers this past offseason. He hasn't always been perfect, but he's been extremely consistent.”
Bors stressed Fitzgerald’s work ethic is crucial to his ability to hold the fort in Brubaker’s stead.
“I think the biggest attribute that Nick possesses is his eagerness to get better — for those who saw him last year as a freshman at this time, and he would tell you the same thing, I don't think anyone would have predicted Nick leading a successful varsity offense,” he said. “However, he really has worked hard at learning the position and the mental side of it. He also worked very hard on changing his body in the weight room, and lastly and most importantly, he has worked very hard on his leadership skills.
“Needless to say, we're very happy with the progress he has made to this point. He has a long way to go, but if he continues to work extremely hard, he should have a bright future.”
The Beavers coach knows what must be done for his squad to capture a W this week and move past the break-even mark.
“First, we need to continue to focus on what we do and get better at it,” he said. “Second, we can't take North lightly, based upon their record.
“And third, we must win the turnover battle.”