Panther gridders finish on a high note

It was pretty clear, after the Euclid Panther football team lost its first five games, that a playoff appearance was out of the question. But Coach Tom Gibbons’ gridders can take pride in their perseverance—and in the way they finished the 2011 season.

They won four of their last five games to improve their final record to 4-6, including a 4-2 mark in the Lake Erie League, losing only to state-ranked Cleveland Heights and to Lorain, to finish in a tie with Shaw for third place. Heights went on to win the LEL crown after upending defending champion Maple Heights on the final weekend.

Euclid closed its season with a 40-27 victory over Bedford, maintaining its record of never having lost to the Bearcats. Rakeesh Nolden scored two of the Panther TDs on passes from senior quarterback Benny Walker covering 14 and 41 yards.

Tailback De’Andre Rollins, a 6-0, 220-pound senior, got things started for the Panthers with a 42-yard scoring run. Walker scored on a 1-yard run and also threw to wide receiver Ricky Johnson for a 13-yard score to put the Panthers ahead 33-20. The defense accounted for the final touchdown as linebacker Mike Harmon recovered a fumble in the Bedford end zone.

Rollins finished the game with 125 rushing yards, raising his season total to 575 yards on 114 carries. Junior Melvin King was the Panthers’ second-leading ball carrier with 476 yards. Over 10 games, Walker’s passing moved the team 1,395 yards through the air.

The setback against Lorain, a narrow 32-27 loss in the second-last game of the season, was a particularly bitter pill to swallow, especially after the Panthers mustered a stirring second-half rally that nearly changed the outcome.

Trailing 24-6 after three quarters, the Panthers began to climb back into the contest with a 60-yard scoring drive fueled by two successful fourth-down pass plays engineered by Walker. On a fourth-and-five, he hit senior wide receiver Houston Boone for a 10 yard gain. Shortly thereafter, he found 6-2 junior wide receiver Rakeesh Nolden open for a 25-yard pickup in a fourth-and-20 situation. After an 8-yard pass to Nolden took the ball to the 1-yard line, Walker scored on a quarterback sneak. He then successfully threw to senior Josh Wells for two conversion points to narrow Lorain’s lead to 24-14.

A fumble recovery by linebacker Mike Harmon at the Lorain 30-yard line set up another TD as Rollins rambled 30 yards for the score. Lou Tortorici’s kick made it 24-21 with just over 10 minutes left in the game. However, Lorain widened its lead to 32-21 with a 63-yard scoring run.

Refusing to fold, the Panthers trimmed the score to 32-27 with two minutes showing on the clock as Ricky Johnson made an outstanding catch on a 30-yard scoring play. Euclid was successful with an onside kick, but failed to cash in on its final possession.

Nolder finished the game with nine receptions for 139 yards and Houston Boone hauled in seven passes for 111 yards.

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.

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Volume 2, Issue 9, Posted 5:00 PM, 12.31.2011