MAPLE HEIGHTS, OH – For the first time in the teams five year history the Northeast Ohio Predators can call themselves Division Champions as they wrapped up the PAFL Stripes Conference Blue Division title with a 34-26 win over Lorain County on Saturday night.
Northeast Ohio started slow in their attempt to pay back Lorain County for the two losses the Nightmares hung on them by a combined 60-10 margin, but bounced back in the games middle quarters offensively with QB Ryan Young tossing four touchdown passes to a trio of receivers.
Cody Schuster, a former D4 All-State Elyria Catholic prep QB opened the games scoring in the second period as he led his team on a 10 play 76 yard drive by completing a pair of passes for a combined 33 yards. Germany Woods got the visitors on the scoreboard first as he slipped in from two yards out at the 14:00 mark of the second quarter, but the ensuing extra point was blocked to keep it at 6-0.
Chris Netters, who finished with 6 catches for 90 yards in the game collected his third touchdown of the season as he hooked up with Young for 55 yards on the Predators first play from scrimmage after the Lorain County score. A fumbled snap led to Young being corralled by the Nightmare defense to keep the game tied at 6-6 on the extra point attempt.
After the fifth Lorain County punt of the first half spotted the ball at the NEO 36 yardline, the Predators offense went back to work as they used five plays to secure their first lead of the game. Ryan Young found DeAngelo Thompson, who toughed out being hit at the goal line to reach the nose of the football into the endzone to put his squad ahead for good. Zac Schultz’ added the extra point with just :49 remaining in the quarter.
Having won the toss and making the choice to play defense at the start of the game, the Predators began the second half with the football. Young, who would finish 15/22 on the day for 257 yards hooked up with three different receivers as he marched his team 75 yards in just under two minutes, including Chris Netters for 12 yards to run the NEO lead to 20-6.
Despite forcing no turnovers on the day, the Predators defense was a force to be dealt with as Tim Weeks, Delmar Cunningham, Kevin Sitgraves, and Cortez Robinson led an attack that accounted for double digit sack and tackle for loss totals in the game.
Following a turnover on downs by Lorain County the Predators took over the football at their opponents 35 yard line and used four plays to reach paydirt. A week after his brother Eddie rushed for a his first touchdown of the season, Daryl Smigelski picked up his first of the season and second overall as a Predator to push the score to 27-6 with 7:34 remaining in the penultimate stanza following the third of four successful Zac Schultz extra point kicks.
Lorain County had a choice as they received the football, quit and roll over or attempt to stay in the game, they chose the latter. 75 yards over the course of almost five minutes on the scoreboard ended with a touchdown when Schuster hooked up with his favorite target, 2014 PAFL All-Star Adam Herbert for a 13 yard touchdown to cut the lead to 27-12 as the two point conversion was a failure.
Derrick Slocum finished the game with 11 carries for 57 yards, but none more important than his three yard touchdown run that put the home squad on top 34-12 on the next drive. Slocum’s touchdown run was his fourth of the season and places him in second place on the league leaderboard.
With just 7:48 remaining in the game, it seemed as if it might just be a matter of time before the Predators wrapped up the contest, but Devin Betts 2 yard touchdown run brought the score to 34-18 and 1:27 left on the clock.
On their own 40 yard line and with 1:12 left in the game, NEO made a decision to throw the ball deep down the sideline. That decision would result in an interception of Young, his 6th of the season (against 12 touchdown passes) and give Lorain County new life at their own 35 after Darrius Jackson pilfered Young’s throw.
Working quickly and with no timeouts Lorain County utilized a 60 yard pass play to move them to the Predators five with just over :40 remaining. Marquise Miller was the recipient of Schuster’s second touchdown throw as he scored with :37 left in the game to help his team pull to 34-26.
The following onsides kick would not go over ten yards, and NEO would take a knee to move to 8-1 on the year, 5-1 in PAFL play and drop Lorain County to 1-5 in league play.
By virtue of the win the Predators wrap up their division and will be at worst a #3 seed in the upcoming PAFL playoffs. Following a week off after taking on the Cleveland Cobras in Perry, Ohio on August 1st, the Predators will next be in action on August 15th at home in their first playoff game.
Due to the folding of the Jackson Silverhawks, the Predators will receive a 21-0 forfeit win this upcoming weekend and run their season record to 9-1 overall and 6-1 in the PAFL.