Blue Devils can't overcome mistakes and Bobcats air attack in 20-13 playoff loss
BY TIM SHIRER
On The Wickliffe Blue Devils entered Saturday night’s game 8-0 and the second seed in Region 21 of Division VI earning home field advantage in the third round of the 2020 playoffs. Field conditions at Wickliffe Memorial Stadium called for the game to be moved one city over to Euclid Community Stadium home of the Euclid Panthers. They welcomed in the Norwayne Bobcats who were the third seeds and 8-0. It was billed as a tight matchup of two powerhouse teams and it did not disappoint in that respect as the underdog Bobcats came out on top 20-13 to move in the playoffs sending home the Blue Devils ending their historic run at 8-1.
The game opened with the Blue Devils getting the kickoff and things looked good for Wickliffe very early as the first play from scrimmage Senior Quarterback Mason Bala ran for 17 yards and then Bala ran once again on the second play for 14 yards to put Wickliffe in Norwayne territory early on. The drive could not be completed though as the Blue Devils picked up only 16 more yards on six plays and turned the ball over to Norwayne at their own 20 with 7:17 left in the first quarter.
Norwayne was unable to convert on their first possession either. Late in the first quarter Wickliffe was driving once again aided by a 28-yard run by Senior Chase Fortkamp. But the drive stalled when the Blue Devils fumbled with 11:18 left on the second quarter clock and Norwayne took over at their own 12.
After Norwayne took possession they ran the ball three straight plays and gained a total of 17 yards two of the runs for 15 yards were by Senior Ameer Cunningham. Cunningham was trouble for the Blue Devils defense all night. On the fourth play of the drive Senior QB Nate Bitskay completed a 76-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Turner to give the Bobcats a 7-0 lead after Sophomore Hayden Ringle converted the extra point with 9:31 left in the first half.
After Wickliffe got the ball on the kickoff and was force to punt on a three and out the Bobcats took possession of the ball at their own 30 with 7:45 left in the first half and pounded the Blue Devils defense sustaining a 15 play drive of 70 yards resulting in a five yard TD pass to Senior Joey Raudebaugh with :20 left on the clock giving Norwayne a 14-0 lead.
Wickliffe got the ball back at their own 44 with :19 remaining in the half. Wickliffe Coach Marce Porcello resorted to some trickery as Bala took the snap and passed it to Senior Daniel Byrne, Byrne then flipped the ball to Fortkamp who took the ball all the way down to the Norwayne 11 yard line. Norwayne was also called for an unsportsmanlike conduct call on the play so the clock stopped. On the next play Bala dropped back to pass that was incomplete but the Bobcats were called for holding giving Wickliffe one more play before halftime and they took advantage. Bala hit Senior Duke Stanczak from four yards out scoring the TD with :03 left on the clock after Senior Isaiah Bolon converted the extra point and pulled the Blue Devils to within seven at 14-7.
Norwayne received the second half kickoff and took the ball down the field but were unable to turn it into points as Ringle missed a 27-yard field goal attempted when the ball went wide right. The Blue Devils took over at their own 20 but were unable to do anything with the ball and a bad snap on the punt gave Norwayne good field position at Wickliffe’s 41-yard line with 5:20 left in the third quarter. Four plays later and a personal foul by Wickliffe Cunningham took the ball in from two yards out for Norwayne giving them a 20-7 lead after Ringle missed the extra point attempt with 3:17 left in the third quarter.
The Blue Devils took the kickoff and drove to the Norwayne 21 when they once again turned the ball over on a fumble and Norwayne took over with 11:56 left in the fourth quarter.
Wickliffe made some uncharacteristic mistakes with turnovers and penalties, something they had not done all season.
The Blue Devils scored their final TD of the game with 5:34 left on the clock on a three yard run by Bala to pull the Blue Devils to within seven points at 20-13, Bolon missed the extra point he had been so dependable all season. He did have a 48-yard reception from Bala on the drive to help set up the TD.
The Blue Devils never got the ball back as Norwayne took over at their own 28 and pounded the ball on the ground against the stellar Wickliffe defense led Seniors Jack Bunn, Tyler Fisher, Zak Esteves, Mikey Moon and Junior Thomas Wenz who injured his ankle on the final drive and had to be helped off the field.
Wickliffe’s ground game which was also exceptional all year led by the senior laden offensive line by Seniors Donovan Liuzzo and Stephen Kulchock was good once again as they racked up 160 yards on 35 attempts.
The Norwayne air attack was 13 for 18 for 163 yards, the most yardage the Blue Devils had given up through the air all season.
Next year Wickliffe will be much younger as they will have only one returning starter Wenz who will be a senior. The Blue Devils will play on a new field surface as an artificial surface will be installed in the spring and be ready for the 2021-2022 school year.
POSTED 10/31/2020 23:55