By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
HUNTING VALLEY —
The Lakeside Dragons have come a long way in a short time under first-year head coach Frank Hall. But so much still lies ahead for the program.
The Dragons didn’t win on Saturday afternoon, but they gave host University School, a team that came in with a deceiving 0-5 record and was celebrating its homecoming weekend, a tremendous battle before losing 30-20.
“We’re very proud of our kids’ effort,” Hall said. “We didn’t quit; we didn’t give up. They just simply made more plays than we did. And that’s something that we’ve got to continue to work on. Our seniors are fighting. I’d love to have ’em for four years, but (I get) one year with ’em. It’s tough.”
“They’re a good football team,” US coach Jim Stephens said. “Every year, they get better, and (Hall) has done a great job. And they have some very good football players. He should be very proud of what he’s doing over there. Their kids played hard and they were disciplined. It was a rough game.”
Lakeside (2-4, 0-3 in the Premier Athletic Conference), which turned in two long touchdown passes and a time-consuming drive for another TD, didn’t trail until the second half, and in fact held the lead late into the third period.
The Preppers pretty much dominated the final 17:12, scoring twice and getting two interceptions. After tight end Nick Meola (4 catches, 124 yards) caught a short pass from Tyler Loftus and got away for a 72-yard score to give Lakeside a 20-15 lead, US (1-5, 1-2) answered with a 50-yard drive set up by a 37-yard kickoff return by Andrew Dorogyi.
On fourth-and-four from the 9, John Gannon found Grant Bumbu on the right side, and Bumbu was able to get into the end zone for a lead the Preppers never relinquished. Gannon then hit Will Karakul with a 2-point conversion to make it 23-20.
At that point, US started to have more success in pressuring the passer, and after a punt, it drove from the Lakeside 43 to the 25, but the Dragons held on fourth-and-five.
However, on the next play, Loftus’s pass was batted into the air by James Johnston and picked off by Tyler Wasser on a diving grab with 8:20 left. Gannon (17-of-28, 187 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) hooked up with Matt Cascio for a 19-yard score on the next play.
After Lakeside was pushed back to a third-and-23 at its own 7, a 33-yard pass from Loftus to Meola and a roughing-the passer penalty put the ball on the US 45. But three plays later, a bad shotgun snap foiled the threat. Following an exchange of punts, the Dragons moved to the US 27, but Voudouris intercepted a Loftus pass in the end zone.
“I tell our guys every day, ‘We’ve got to be able to run the football,’” Hall said. “If you run the football, stuff like (Meola’s touchdown) opens up. The second half, we weren’t able to run the football as well, and (US) was able to drop back and keep everything in front of them.”
“We have a lot of young players on the field, and they started to gain confidence,” Stephens, who related that injuries have caused changes in roles, said. “But honestly, they started to do what we’ve been coaching them. Sometimes young players don’t always do what you coach ‘em to do.
“We have two very good defensive ends, James Johnston and Tyler Wasser, and they started to get pressure on the quarterback.”
Voudouris, a junior who also turned a short pass into a 47-yard TD which, with a two-point conversion on a pass from Gannon to Bennett, gave US a 15-13 lead in the third quarter, was identified by Stephens as a player who overcame adversity. With the Dragons taking possession at their own 14 just 1:17 before halftime, Loftus found Johnny Evans downfield with no one anywhere near him. The sophomore hauled in the pass and easily completed the 86-yard play for the score that broke a 7-all tie.
“We just put (Voudouris) in that position (safety),” Stephens said. “He’s a younger player and doesn’t have that much experience. He came flying up and they threw the touchdown over him. But when we needed it, he dropped back and he made the interception.”
“We faked the screen,” Hall said. “We were able to hit it. Huge play for us.”
The Dragons got on the board first by converting a 16-play drive that ate up more than 7 1/2 minutes on their first possession. Loftus (10 of 20, 269 yards, 3 TDs) found Marcell Ballenger for a 6-yard touchdown on fourth down for a 7-0 lead.
“That was a great drive -- the best drive we’ve had all year,” Hall said.
The Preppers answered by driving 56 yards in six plays, capped by Dorogi’s seven-yard run. Dorogi had returned the kickoff 26 yards to set up the march.
Lakeside then almost converted another long drive after taking possession at its own 20. Starting with a 42-yard pass from Loftus to Demetrius Green, it moved to a first-and-goal at the US 2. However, three consecutive losses ensued, and on fourth down from the 7, the ball was fumbled away at the 1.
As it appeared that the ballcarrier would not have made it to the end zone anyway, the fumble was probably just a technicality.
The Dragons had the upper hand in total yards, 343-242, but suffered the only three turnovers of the game.
“Our kids are fighting and aren’t giving up,” Hall said. “I’m just so proud of ‘em. Losing’s terrible. You hate it. There’s no moral losses, but I’m just proud of the way our kids came back and fought after a tough loss (49-6 to Geneva) last week -- and in an environment that we’re not very used to. A tough environment to come in and play on Saturday afternoon.”
Rain fell during a large portion of the contest.
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.