Photo by Paul Thomas
(PAINESVILLE, Ohio) – After weeks of knocking on the doorstep, Lake Erie finally busted into the win column after a 49-42 barn-burner at Jack Britt Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon. It's the first win for the Storm (1-3, 1-1) since October 28, 2017, when they also beat the Panthers (0-4, 0-1) in Owensboro.
Not only was the win the first for the Storm in 17 games, but it was Reilly Murphy's career first as a head coach.
"You know, I'm just happy for our guys. They worked so hard," said Coach Murphy. "This is a culmination of hard work since we got here in January. The guys have been a part of the change and moving things forward. I just feel happy that we were able to get over the hump because we've been very close and I just feel good for those guys that have worked so hard for this to happen to them."
There was no shortage of excitement as the game came down to the final seconds. Driving deep into Panther territory, Javarian Smith (Sr., Pontiac, Mich.) was able to find a wide-open Eric Zokouri (RS-So., Silver Spring, Md.) on a screen pass off the left side who then jolted 25 yards to paydirt. The score capped a 10-play, 93 yard drive that started after Kentucky Wesleyan seemingly stole momentum after tying the game following an extraordinary turn of events.
Kentucky Wesleyan was able to tie the game at 35-35 after a high snap on a punt went out of the end zone for a safety. The Panthers were then able to drive the length of the field and attempt a go-ahead field goal from just 19 yards out. However it was blocked by sophomore Desmon Darby (Detroit, Mich.) and Tareeq Welch (Jr., Tampa, Fla.) was able to scoop it up and race 88 yards to the house.
"Our guys just fight, no matter what the position is, no matter the time," added Murphy. "That's something I'm really proud of about what they did."
Initially it appeared to be smooth sailing for Lake Erie as the Green and White raced to a 21-3 lead after one quarter of play. After the defense forced the visitors into a three-and-out deep in their own territory on their first possession, a short punt put the Storm in prime field position. On the first play of their second drive, Smith found Desmon Turner (Sr., Cedar Bluff, Ala.) from 28 yards for the first touchdown of the game.
For Smith, it was one of six in which he'd be involved. On the Storm's next drive, he'd find Josh Hufstetler (Jr., North Olmsted, Ohio) from 21 yards out to cap another short-field opportunity. The next Lake Erie possession saw Smith bust over the goal line from three yards out to cap a five-play, 65 yard drive. Smith also rushed in another from a yard out in the second quarter that made the score 28-17.
Hufstetler added a second touchdown pass in the third in another huge momentum swing. After Kentucky Wesleyan blocked a punt that resulted in a safety, the ensuing kick was fumbled and returned by Ryan Rains (Jr., Fullerton, Calif.) to the 10. Three players later, Smith hit Hufstetler again from three yards out.
Smith finished the day 8-of-20 for 139 yards. He did quite a bit of work on the ground as well with 16 carries for 50 yards. Zokouri led the ground game with 22 attempts for 93 yards. Antwan Harris (RS-Sr., Youngstown, Ohio) added 63 yards on five carries, including an important 52 yard run to help set up the Storm's third touchdown.
Justin Growel (RS-Jr., East Troy, Wisc.) had another huge game with 12 tackles. Five were for a loss which included 2.5 sacks that totaled a loss of 18 yards. Elems Ukwu Jr. (Gr., Landover, Md.) also totaled 12 tackles on the day.
Overall the defense brought down the Panthers 13 times behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of 49 yards and sacked Panther QB Wiley Cain five times.
Cain led the Kentucky Wesleyan offense with 337 yards passing. He was 28-of-52 with three touchdowns. David Florence was his favorite target with 176 yards on nine receptions with a 70 yard catch and score.
While the Storm will celebrate tonight, they will quickly turn their attention to Walsh for the homecoming game in a new rivalry. Details on the game will be released Monday, but a new traveling trophy will be on the line in the annual contest between the two starting this year.
Kickoff with the Cavaliers is set for 3 p.m. a week from today. Coverage will be available on the Great Midwest Digital Network. Tickets will be $10 with Lake Erie College students, staff and faculty allowed in free of charge with their LEC Storm Card ID.