SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP — THEY deserved better.
That’s what has been running through my mind ever since I hit send on my game story and pulled out of the parking lot at Lakeside High School Friday night.
As the son of a former sports writer and someone who has covered high school sports, particularly football the past dozen or so years for the Star Beacon, I take pride in what goes under my byline.
I didn’t feel very proud of what went under that byline depicting Lakeside’s 49-26 loss to Villa Angela St. Joseph.
It was a great game to watch.
Please don’t be deceived by the final score.
This game was MUCH closer than that.
And, the effort put forth by the young men at Lakeside in that game deserved a much better summary than this writer was able to give it.
It was a long game — a VERY long one. For the record, I entered my car at 10:15 p.m. with 30 minutes before deadline to spew out a description of a back-and-forth matchup that saw the two teams combine for more than 1,000 yards of offense (1,035 to be exact).
It was nearly an impossible task, but I really don’t like making excuses.
In retrospect, Lakeside and coach Buzz Edwards could also have made excuses for having to play a vastly different Week 3 game against the Vikings than planned when this game was originally scheduled.
But, Edwards didn’t and neither did his Dragons.
This offseason, former Euclid High School coach Jeff Rotsky left the Panther Program and took over the job at VASJ. Along with that hire, some transfers, including from Euclid, joined him.
This Vikings are off to a 3-0 start.
Instead of making excuses, the Dragons left an impression on the people in this area that this team is not the same as some of the Lakeside teams from years past.
In his fourth year leading the Lakeside program, Edwards has established a winning culture — one that was clearly on display against the Vikings.
Rotsky is an excellent coach and I am positive neither he, nor his staff, took Lakeside lightly. But, observing the angst from the Vikings coaches in the press box throughout the game as well as their relief afterwards, I can also assure that they walked away with even a newer level of respect for Lakeside.
Here is what I wanted to reveal in my story.
There was no quit by the Lakeside players. Each time early in the game VASJ scored, the Dragons countered.
The game was knotted at 7 and then later deadlocked at 14 after junior tailback J’Shon Sanders powered it in from the 1-yard line on 4th down with 9:01 until halftime.
VASJ immediately answered, using its big playmaking ability, as senior quarterback Jaylen Minter made a nifty move avoiding a sack and found Desmond Kirks for a 38-yard touchdown.
The Vikings then increased it to 28-14 in just two plays on the next possession. The first was 52-yard pass from Minter to Andre Terry, followed by a 25-yard touchdown run by talented sophomore Amani Powell.
Lakeside, however, wasn’t caving in as the offensive line opened a massive hole, allowing senior tailback Elijah Jefferson to show off his own big-play ability. Jefferson burst through and outran the VASJ secondary for a 62-yard toucdown to cut the deficit to 28-20.
If Edwards and his team had one regret after the game, it would be the final 3 minutes before half.
Immediately following Jefferson’s touchdown, talented sophomore Jimmy Timonere, who scored a 26-yard touchdown pass earlier from quarterback Garrette Siebeneck, recovered an onside kick.
Jefferson also had an interception and 37-yard return in that time frame, but in both cases the hosts were unable to capitalize.
“We made some big plays in this game, but you have to make a lot of big plays to beat those guys,” Edwards said. “They were able to make more than we did.”
The Dragons did get closer in the early moments of the second half, cutting the Vikings lead to 28-26.
But, that was all the Dragons were able to muster on the scoreboard as several good drives afterwards stalled.
VASJ were able to pull away with two more big plays in the air — Minter finding senior Alonte Pryor for touchdown passes of 52 and 60 yards, respectively.
Lakeside played the game with some of its regular defensive backfield sidelined via injury. That, for sure, contributed to some of the big plays it gave up as VASJ finished with 549 yards of total offense.
But the Dragon defense also came up big in several areas. They forced five turnovers on the night. And 6-foot, 210-pound VASJ senior tailback Ty Howard, one of those big time players, was held to just 37 yards.
Meanwhile, Lakeside wasn’t too shabby on offense either with 486 total yards and just one turnover — an interception on a trick play right before half.
For one, quarterback Garrette Siebeneck was impressive. The 6-foot-3 senior came out slinging, connecting on 5 of his first 7 passes for 95 yards in the opening quarter and helped open up the run as the game progressed. He ended up with 274 yards passing (13 of 26), matching Minter, who ended up with 256 yards in the air.
He wasn’t alone.
Angelo Colllazo recorded six catches for 113 yards. The junior also had an interception earlier in the game that set up Lakeside’s first score.
Jefferson finished the game with 17 carries for 112 yards and one touchdown, as well as catching a pair of passes for 24 yards.
Sanders, with his two touchdowns, battled his way for 87 yards on 23 carries and caught a couple of passes himself for 18 yards.
Timorere also had another big catch along with his touchdown, totalling 58 yards receiving
After the game, as I was anxious to get a quick quote or two and was under the clock to get something legible written and submitted, I couldn’t help but notice the atmosphere as Lakeside huddled around their coach in the south endzone.
Edwards was calm and his players — every single one of them -- looked with total respect towards their coach.
Like any good coach, Edwards knows the work is never done. There is always a new level to take your team and there will always be hurdles to manage throughout the process.
But, while there isn’t any moral victories, there is also the satisfaction in seeing that the hard work invested is paying off.
“I’m proud of the way our kids fought,” Edwards said. “One thing we’ve worked here to change here is that coming to Ashtabula isn’t going to be a freebie anymore. Whether we come to your place or you come to ours, it isn’t going to be an automatic ‘W’.
“We are not going to back down. We are going to draw a line and going to give ‘em our best shot.”