Panthers survive "Mud Bowl," break into the Win column

After suffering losses in their first five games—to some of the toughest football teams in the state of Ohio—the Euclid High Panthers finally notched their first victory of the 2011 season when they out-slogged Shaw, 14-0, on a night when the elements made timid souls shudder.

The cold, rainy, windy conditions—surely not what the planners of the Senior Parents Night festivities had hoped for—deterred all but the hardiest and most loyal fans from venturing into the stands at Sparky DiBiasio Stadium to witness what will likely be remembered as the “Mud Bowl.”

The rain and 30-mph winds put a damper on both teams’ passing attacks. And the soggy, muddy field prevented ball carriers from getting much traction. (Perhaps it’s time to revisit the issue of installing an artificial turf surface?)

But, somehow, Coach Tom Gibbons’ scrappy gridders found a way to overcome both the elements and the 11 players on the other side of the line of scrimmage. No longer can anyone call them a winless team. In fact, one high school sports analyst speculated that the Panthers might win all of their remaining games and finish 5-1 in the Lake Erie League.

Despite their current 1-5 overall mark, winning out would put Euclid in contention for a share of the LEL crown, provided the three still-unbeaten teams slip up somewhere along the way. Those teams are Cleveland Heights (3-0 in the LEL), Bedford (3-0), and defending Division II state champion Maple Heights (2-0). Euclid, now 1-1 and in fourth place in the league, doesn’t play Maple this season.

Next up for the Panthers is Warren G. Harding High Oct. 7. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Harding, which currently stands 0-3 in league play and 1-5 overall. Also on tap for the Panthers is an away contest at Shaker Heights at 2 p.m. on Oct. 15 and the homecoming game Oct. 21 against Lorain.

It’s been widely reported that the Panthers have faced perhaps the most difficult early schedule of any team in Northeast Ohio. In fact, going into last weekend’s games, all of Euclid’s first five opponents remained undefeated and all were state-ranked. Cleveland Heights, which handed the Panthers a 19-7 setback in their league opener on Sept. 23, was No. 3 in the Division I, Region 1 computer ratings—behind St. Edward and Mentor. (At the end of the regular season, the top eight teams in each region qualify for the playoffs.)

In an interview on WELW radio prior to the Shaw game, Coach Gibbons alluded to the fact that his squad was still looking for its first win when he declared: “Certainly, we need to get the monkey off our back….We’ve gone through a tough stretch of games. But our kids are still excited [about playing football].”

Aware that the Shaw game would be played on a mushy field, the coach added: “We may have to make it a game between the tackles. But I think we’ll be able to do that.”

His confidence was not misplaced. Despite the sloppy field conditions, the Panthers managed to grind out 133 yards on the ground. De’Andre Rollins, the 220-pound senior running back, gained 85 yards on 16 carries and bulled his way into the end zone for both Euclid touchdowns. Junior kicker Louie Tortorici made the extra point kicks after each TD.

Junior tailback Melvin King picked up another 23 rushing yards. And the determined Panther defense, with an assist from the foul weather, held Shaw to just 33 yards on the ground and 56 total yards for the night.

Understandably, neither team enjoyed much success passing, but Euclid quarterback Tyler Stafford filled in capably at quarterback, getting 67 yards through the air. The 5-9, 195-pound senior stepped in after Benny Walker, the regular starter, was sidelined by an injury.

Much of the credit for the first victory of the season has to go to the Panther defense which came up with a number of key stops, including a big interception by defensive back Linden Stephens in the fourth quarter.  Stephens, a 5-11, 160-pound junior, picked off a pass by Shaw’s William Woods at the Euclid 2-yard line to halt a deep penetration into Euclid territory.

Another desperation drive by Shaw was foiled by a pair of quarterback sacks, including one by Linje Ross, a 310-pound junior lineman.


PHOTO CAPTION:    (NOTE: Photo was submitted for September issue but not used. It is a group shot of seven Panther returning starters.)

PHOTO:  (No. 815 on original chip or 400-401 on current chip) 

 PANTHER MAINSTAYS – These returning starters were expected to be the backbone of the Euclid Panther football team this fall.  Front row, from left:  quarterback Benny Walker (14), center Brian Henderson (63), tailback Juwan Ford (3). Back row: wide receiver Houston Boone (4), lineman T. J. Owens (56), lineman Matt Blaha (78), and tailback-linebacker De’Andre Rollins (1).     (Photo by John Sheridan)

John Sheridan

Retired journalist. From 1963 to 1972, wrote for and edited the Euclid News-Journal, predecessor to the Sun-Journal. From 1972 to 2000, I was a writer and editor for Industry Week magazine. Also have worked for the Plain Dealer as a part-time sportswriter, covering high school sports. And I was a contributor to the previous Euclid Observer. I have lived in Euclid for almost my entire life. I am a graduate of St. Joseph High School and John Carroll University.

Read More on Sports
Volume 2, Issue 8, Posted 1:30 PM, 10.06.2011