EYE ON THE PRIZE
Elyria Catholic quarterback Cameron Engrish throws a short pass to Gavan Hrobat during the first quarter against Bay on Oct. 12. The Panthers topped the Rockets, 28-21, on a touchdown with 4 seconds remaining to hand Bay its first loss of the season and s
Elyria Catholic always believed things would be different under first-year coach Brian Fox.
But in order to prove it, it needed a signature win.
That happened on Oct. 12 at Bay in a Great Lakes Conference battle, when the Panthers got a 4-yard touchdown catch in the
corner of the end zone by Jaret Frantz from QB Cameron Engrish with four seconds left in a 28-21 win.
The Panthers (6-2) had not beaten the Rockets (7-1) since the final year of the West Shore Conference in 2014 and snapped Bay’s 23-game regular season winning streak.
“It’s every kid’s little dream,” said Frantz, who is 6-foot-4. “The game is on the line, it’s tied and I’m tall so we schemed it up and threw a jump ball. I was in the right place in the right time. This is the biggest game of our year. It was like a playoff game to us.”
Elyria Catholic running back Leighton Banjoff rushed for 244 yards — 122 in each half, on 34 carries and three touchdowns.
Banjoff’s third TD came early in the fourth to put the Panthers up, 21-6. But Bay stormed back, connecting on a 44-yard touchdown to Max Showalter with 9:26 remaining, then recovered an onside kick and converted on a 6-yard rushing touchdown from Andrew Veverka with 7:57 remaining. Quarterback Logan LaMere converted the two-point conversion on a rollout.
But Banjoff and the Panthers never got rattled. On Elyria Catholic’s final possession, Banjoff had backto-back 20-yard gains, positioning them inside the 5-yard line to set up the game-winning score.
“I can’t thank my coaches, teammates and everybody else enough,” Banjoff said. “All the hard work we put in from the beginning of the season has paid off. I’ve put in the hard work everyday and I pushed my teammates, and this is the outcome we get.”
Bay (7-1) rushed for 136 total yards, led by Connor Shell’s 51 yards on 21 carries.
But the Rockets’ defense had no answer for Banjoff and the Panthers’ attack, a defense that’s held opponents under 13 points a game.
“I told our guys to just stick together,” Bay coach Ron Rutt said. “We still have a shot at at least the share of the conference and a playoff berth. And to be honest, this 23-game streak was getting stressful in some ways. Never will be happy that it’s over, but it was a heck of a run. Six wins two years back, 10 wins last year and then seven this year. You’ve got a number of groups and teams that were involved in it. It was a historical run and something we’ll always be proud of.”
The Panthers entered halftime with a 14-0 lead, getting 3-yard and 2-yard scores from Banjoff.
The play call to Frantz with no timeouts left to win was the Panthers’ best option, and coach Fox knew it.
And he also knows this win is what this program needed.
“He’s a very tall kid,” Fox said about Frantz. “He went up and made a play. This win means everything. You can’t call yourself one of the top teams in the conference until you beat the teams that are running it. And Bay is spectacular, they have been an incredible group and I don’t envy whomever plays them next week.”
Elyria Catholic quarterback Cameron Engrish hands off to Leighton Banjoff against Bay during the first quarter on Oct. 12.