Firelands’ offensive linemen stepped off the team bus at Brookside in fresh white uniforms with a crisp red and black trim and number combo, but what they got back on the bus in was a brown mess with unseeable numbers and a Patriot Athletic Conference victory over Brookside, 31-0, on Sept. 30.
While the grass at Brookside was as nice as you could ask for given the days of rain, the green meadow turned into a slush of mud by the end of the first quarter. With tough conditions for both sides, the big men up front for the Falcons did the bossing around as Firelands dictated the ground game.
Racking up 323 yards on the ground, the physical Falcons up front were in top form on a night they were needed most.
“We stared off a little slow. We really had to adjust to the footing, especially up front, and then the guys were able to get that going,” Firelands head coach Mike Passerrello said. “It’s a heck of an offensive line that really takes pride in blocking for their backs.”
Enabling big-time playmakers like juniors Nick Denney, who finished with 143 yards on 22 carries, and Logan Strader, 83 yards on 14 touches as well as three touchdowns, to get out and run in the tough conditions, both backs were highly complimentary of their big guys up front.
“You can see that the middle of the field is just crazy muddy and stuff, but it doesn’t stop them from working their butts off every play and getting those blocks,” Denney said.
“They had a great game. They shoved the defensive line back almost every play,” Strader added.
Working out of the pistol formation, the Falcons had a three-headed monster in Strader, Denney and senior Mike Whitacre, who finished his day with 69 yards on eight carries. Featuring his well-balanced backfield, Passerrello said his guys really fed off on another in the triple-option backfield.
“It is truly a total team effort, I mean the guys up front take pride in blocking for the guys back there and those guys really appreciate all the hard work they put into it,” Passerrello said. “The guys in the back, our running backs and quarterback, it’s a really nice thing and it doesn’t happen all the time, but they like blocking for each other and they’re willing to do the dirty work when they’re not getting the ball.”
Just as important in this one was the play of the Falcons’ defense. Allowing Brookside to accumulate just 71 yards of total offense, 42 passing and 29 rushing, the Firelands defense wasn’t in the business of giving up much of anything as the Cardinals were held to just a handful of plays in Firelands territory.
“I can’t say enough (about our defense) I mean with some of the struggles we had offensively in the first half, that defense, they just stepped up,” Passerrello said. “Our defensive line, linebackers, they just filled and did a great job. I can’t say enough of them in this condition and field position and everything else for them to be able to get a goose egg.”
Not everything went the Falcons way, though, in this one as a few drives that made their way deep into Brookside territory were halted by a young and hungry defense.
“We’re trying to play a ‘bend, don’t break’ mentality and try to have them make mistakes,” Brookside head coach Paul Ferguson said. “Unfortunately, they didn’t make many mistakes and that slot running back, he’s a tough kid and he would get the edge really quick and sometimes we struggled to answer it and other times we did stop it.”
Seeing his team struggle a bit to finish off some key drives, Passerrello said he had to give his group a talking to about keeping focused and getting the win. In the end, the previously white jerseys of the Falcons turned into a reminder of hard they have to work in order to get a win with mud on their backs.
“I take away that these kids, they grinded one out in tough conditions,” Passerrello said. “Brookside was very physical tonight, credit to them, and our kids just kept grinding it out and kept finding away to keep moving forward both offensively and defensively.”
Article posted in Morning Journal by Matt Lofgren