By ERIC FORTUNE
For the Star Beacon
Lakeside coach Frank Hall garnered a lot of attention a year ago chasing down an armed T.J. Lane in the Chardon school shooting.
Now, he patrols the sidelines of his hometown school — Lakeside.
The circumstances were much different than that fateful day on Febr. 27, 2012 as it would be when talking life and death.
Still, sports has a way to heal and provide comfort. Maybe that is what was able to help guide the Dragons to an opening-week victory, 13-12, over the East Panthers.
“Our kids fighting,” Hall said. “Our community’s fighting. Everybody’s fighting for us. It’s a great win for our community and for our school.”
The win is the first for Lakeside to start a season since a 20-14 overtime triumph at Howland in 2004.
The Dragons couldn’t have asked for a better start then returning the opening kickoff to the East 31 yard line. Ten plays later, Tyler Loftus’ 2-yard run off left tackle made it 7-0 midway through the opening quarter.
The Panthers struggled generating much in the way of offense, putting on three of the four possessions in the first quarter.
Though, after quickly taking that early 7-0 advantage, the Dragons’ offense was non-existent and didn’t push its advanatge until Jonathan Santana stepped in front of Brandon Jackson’s pass and take it 13 yards down to Panther 7-yard line.
Loftus found Marcell Ballenger to up their lead to 13-0 despite 40 yards of total offense.
“Our execution is where we have to get better,” East coach P.J. Mays said. “There are no ifs, ands, or butts about it. Our offense is just so far behind. We have to find a spark to help out our defense. They do their job. We don’t do ours.”
The Panthers responded on their next drive, going 58 yards on six plays with the added benefit of two Lakeside penalites. Brandon Jackson found Jawuan Jones from 27 yards out to cut the lead to 13-6.
With both offenses struggling through most of the second half, it took a two-minute drill to get some consistency the way of the Panthers as Jackson found Jones on fourth-and-15 from 35 yards out down the right sideline to make it 13-12.
Mays elected to go for the win and it seemed the improbable comeback was in the cards when Jones had the ball in his grasp, only to see it fall incomplete with a hoard of Dragon defenders on him.
“It was just an opportunity for these young men,” Mays said. “It’s all about them. I could care less about my records. I only care about theirs. We wanted to send them off right.
“We were just trying to get a win and get tradition back here. We came up short, but I was proud of the effort.”
Hall hopes this is the start of something exciting for his squad as he saw a lot of toughness to not let the game slip away.
“Coaches can do what they can, but it’s the players that make the plays,” Hall said. “We are changing our culture at Lakeside. The kids in the past would have given up.
“We came up and denied them on that 2-point conversion.”
Fortune is a freelance writer from McDonald.