By Doug Chapin
Key passes rallied the Quakers to a 24-20 win at Lakeview.
CORTLAND — Friday night’s high school football weather conditions — rain, wind and mud — usually lead to a low-scoring defensive struggle as the elements combine to stifle offensive attacks.
That wasn’t the case at Lakeview High, though. Salem, after losing an early 14-0 lead, rallied for the game-winning touchdown with 29 seconds remaining in a 24-20 triumph.
The winning score came on a 16-yard pass from junior quarterback Trent Toothman to sophomore receiver Zach Pennick.
The teams, both 6-2 coming into the game and in playoff contention, combined for 34 first downs and 695 yards — 316 on the ground and 379 passing.
“What a finish. I don’t know what to say right now,” Salem coach Mike Kopachy said. “We have great kids, they played to the final whistle and didn’t give up.
“They had a lot of things go against them tonight but they held their composure, they kept fighting and they just had one of the biggest wins in school history.
“Coach [Todd] Huda gave us the touchdown play, I liked it, we called it,” Kopachy said. “Zach Pennick, what a game he had. Trent Toothman, what a ball he threw. The line on that drive, what great protection. The defense, too, had two fourth-down stops when we needed them most.
“I can’t say enough about our defense, Coach [Andy] Bowell. I’m proud of these guys, I love these guys. It was a great win against a great team and a great program.”
Salem entered the game ranked ninth in Division III, Region 11. Lakeview was fourth in Division IV, Region 13. The contest determined the runner-up behind Hubbard in the All-American Conference White Division.
The Quakers finish the regular season at East Liverpool while Lakeview travels to Champion.
“I’m really proud of our kids, they played hard through a lot of adversity,” Lakeview coach Tom Pavlansky said. “They played their hearts out like they have since the first scrimmage. They’ve given us everything they’ve got every single day.
“A lot of people counted these guys out before the season started. But now we come down to the last game of the season and if we win we go to the playoffs. If you had told these guys that before the season started I think they would have said, ‘Let’s go.’”
Salem’s game-winning drive started at its 24 with 1:36 on the clock. The Quakers picked up three first downs on a 22-yard scramble by Toothman, a 14-yard pass from Toothman to Dillon Rhodes and a 21-yard pass to Ben Eisel which took the ball to the 16.
After spiking the ball to stop the clock, Toothman lofted a pass to the front right corner of the end zone where a Lakeview defender appeared to be in position to defend the pass. But Pennick wrestled the ball away for the winning score.
Pennick finished with five catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Eisel had four catches for 83 yards. Toothman completed 13 of 21 for 254 yards. He also ran for 94 yards.
“This was a playoff game for us. We control our own destiny now, we’ve got one more of these left,” Kopachy said. “If we want to keep playing we’ve got to beat East Liverpool.
“That’s one of the tough things about this. You get a big win but you don’t get to enjoy it for very long because we’ve got a good opponent next week.”
Less than four minutes into the game, Salem led 14-0 and had out-gained the Bulldogs 93 yards to 5.
Lakeview fought back, scoring its first touchdown late in the first period, then using a 60-yard bomb from sophomore quarterback Anthony Franco to Tyler DeWeese to set up a second score.
The Bulldogs missed the extra point after their first TD and failed on a pass play trying for the two-point conversion after the second score.
Eisel nailed a 27-yard field goal for Salem as time ran out in the second quarter, putting the Quakers ahead 17-12 at the half.
Senior running back Te Elias ground out 111 yards for the Bulldogs and Matt Beaman added 58, often taking the shotgun snap from center.
The two featured on Lakeview’s opening drive of the second half which put the Bulldogs ahead. The drive covered 55 yards over nine plays with Franco scoring from 2 yards out. He tacked on the two-point conversion scrambling around right end the Lakeview led 20-17.
That lead held up as Lakeview twice drove inside the Quaker 30 only to lose the ball on downs, including the possession which led to Salem’s final decisive drive.
“Defensively we played real well at times and we got better as the game went along,” Pavlansky said. “We gave them a couple of short fields there early and they took advantage of it like good teams do. Trent Toothman’s pretty good. We just gave them a little too much time on the clock at the end.”