Pi­rates rid­ing wave of con­fi­dence

The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH) - - SPORTS -

Seven days be­fore the big­gest up­set in Rocky River foot­ball play­off his­tory, the Pi­rates, led by 23 se­niors, loaded up the buses for a somber bus ride home af­ter a loss to ri­val Elyria Catholic.

No longer in con­trol of their own destiny, the Pi­rates would have a long night to see how ev­ery­thing in Divi­sion III, Re­gion 10 played out and the wait­ing would run into the fol­low­ing day. Need­ing some help from a few dif­fer­ent teams, it wasn’t un­til Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon that the dream of mak­ing the play­offs for the first time since 2015 be­came a re­al­ity for Rocky River.

“On the bus ride home, we were all check­ing the Joe Ei­tel page and all th­ese prob­a­bil­ity web­sites and stuff like that won­der­ing,” se­nior quar­ter­back Michael Fin­negan said. “Ob­vi­ously it sucks to lose to EC, but it’s one of those times where you have to turn around and you can’t let that game de­fine you. The big­ger game is ahead and, luck­ily, we just snuck in there and here we are. Week 12. But those stress­ful two days, it def­i­nitely tested us, but we were able to bounce back.”

Say­ing good­bye to the sea­son with­out a play­off win wasn’t some­thing that Rocky River was con­sid­er­ing. Mak­ing the hour drive out to Clyde last Fri­day, coach Josh Wells watched his team put ev­ery­thing out on the field for one an­other to push the sea­son for­ward.

Watch­ing the clock strike zero af­ter a game-win­ning in­ter­cep­tion re­turn, Wells had no one to turn to but the kids that worked all sea­son long for the mo­ment and cel­e­brated what the win would do for them and the com­mu­nity.

“I was just ex­cited watch­ing the kids, I can’t tell you what I was think­ing, just see­ing the re­ac­tion of our kids fi­nally mak­ing it over the hump with so many close calls through­out the sea­son and just to watch the re­ac­tion and them liv­ing in the mo­ment of that win and be­ing an eighth seed ver­sus a one seed, it didn’t mat­ter to them at that point,” Wells said. “We knew once we got into the play­offs, any­thing could hap­pen and that’s the men­tal­ity they’ve taken and that’s the men­tal­ity we’ve taken since with an eight ver­sus a four in Nor­walk.

“We don’t think that way. Our kids know how good they can be and we were fi­nally able to put it all to­gether at the right time in the right game.”

A cel­e­bra­tion that took years of be­ing on the cusp with sev­eral promis­ing teams com­ing though, the pay­off on the night dates back to some close loses that only taught the Pi­rates how to win when it mat­tered most.

De­spite lead­ing for most of the game, the real re­lief didn’t come un­til the fi­nal minute of the game when ju­nior Cris­tian Dean in­ter­cepted a pass in­side the Rocky River red zone and gave the Pi­rates a go-ahead lead that on the pick-six that Wells saw his team dis­play all the hard work and close bat­tles pay­off.

“In those close to calls, it’s hard for the kids to say, ‘Let’s learn from this and move on from it.’ So for them to not give up on the be­lief that our mes­sage to them and to see it come to fruition in such a big mo­ment in a big game is so re­ward­ing for our coach­ing staff,” Well said. “For them to show us that we still be­lieve and we be­lieved in the mes­sage, we be­lieved and we are fi­nally com­ing through, that’s a tes­ta­ment to our kids and they’ve worked their tails off since Jan­uary.”

Wait­ing anx­iously on the side­lines as Clyde moved the ball to­wards the end zone, Fin­negan erupted the mo­ment he knew his team had stunned the No. 1 seed in the re­gion and would be mov­ing on.

“I just couldn’t be­lieve it hon­estly be­cause right away you think about how hard you work all off sea­son and it all comes down to one drive, specif­i­cally one play and it’s just big weight off your shoul­ders for us and a team that hasn’t won a play­off game in 11 years,” Fin­negan said. “That weight just lifted off your shoul­ders is just a great mo­ment.”

JEN FORBUS — THE MORN­ING JOUR­NAL

The Rocky River side­line cel­e­brates dur­ing a Divi­sion III, Re­gion 10 quar­ter­fi­nal win over top-ranked Clyde.

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