By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
“Coach, I got you.”
Those were the only words Ravenna football head coach Joe Callihan needed to hear to sweep away any anxiety he may have been feeling during the closing moments of Friday’s matchup at Field.
To set the dramatics, Ravenna, seeking its first win of the season, held a 21-13 lead over the host Falcons with 1:35 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Ravens were staring at a third-and-11, and the Falcons had just called their final timeout.
Despite the down and distance, the analytics called for a run play, regardless of the result because of Field’s inability to stop the clock again.
Even still, Ravenna senior Austin Marshall had made up his mind.
It was inside that timeout, as the Ravens settled on their play-call, Marshall looked at Callihan and delivered his affirmation in the play.
“Coach, I got you.”
And he most certainly did.
Marshall took the handoff, raced around the left edge, fought through tackles and traffic to get the first down, then changed direction and emerged free and clear across the middle of the field and rumbled for 43 yards before finally being pulled down.
And the Ravens (1-5, 1-2 MAC) earned their first victory of the 2023 season, 21-13, on the road at Kenneth Lohr Stadium in Brimfield.
“Austin has been our workhorse all year, and when he were on the sideline during that timeout and he looked at me and told me that, I believed in him 100 percent,” Callihan said. “You could see it in his eyes and that is the kind of thing that makes him a great team captain. It is not just that I believe in him, his team believes in him.”
It is that belief in each other and the process that Callihan says has continued to permeate throughout the team despite their 0-5 start.
“I think a lot of what it comes down to for us is that we have continued to work hard, and we have continued to understand that it is a process,” the second-year coach said. “Just because you put in the hard work, that does not guarantee you anything. It only gives you a chance to win.”
Ravenna’s chance on Friday really began to take shape in the second half and largely because of defensive adjustments that helped the Ravens shut down a powerful Field running game.
With the two teams trading touchdowns in the first half, it was the Falcons’ ground attack that was fueling the surge.
In the first half alone, Field (2-4, 2-1 MAC) junior Drexal McAmis had 18 carries for 138 yards, propelling a Field team total that included 28 carries for 195 yards at halftime.
In the second half, the attempts shrunk and the yards practically vanished for the Falcons, with 11 carries for only 6 yards.
“Devin Shipp, our defensive coordinator, did a heck of a job jumping into some different fronts to mix it up,” Callihan said. “It allowed our linebackers to get downhill, and we trusted our defensive backs to play a lot of man cover so that we could get more of our guys in the box.”
It resulted in Ravenna holding Field scoreless in the second half and managing just 24 total yards of offense.
The Ravens scored the only second-half points on a 17-yard pass from CJ Ross to Bobby Melzer with 2:35 to play in the third quarter.
Melzer’s route took him to the front left corner of the end zone and despite double-coverage, Ross placed the ball up for Melzer, who used his size to high-point the ball and pull in the score.
Jose Carpenter’s kick made the score the eventual final of 21-13 after the touchdown.
It was the third touchdown pass of the game for Ross, who finished an efficient 11-of-15 for 135 yards.
His first two touchdowns were delivered to Bryant Thompson, who got the Ravens on the board with his 22-yard pass at 9:38 in the first quarter, then put the Ravens up for good with a 63-yard pass at the 3:50 mark of the second quarter.
Thompson’s first TD put Ravenna up 7-0, but the Falcons answered on their first possession of the game by easily marching down the field on runs by McAmis and Victor Brown. Eventually, McAmis scored from 10 yards out to tie the score 7-7.
Field took a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter (10:39) on a 14-yard run over the left tackle by Brady McCoy. The Falcons, however, would then go scoreless over the next 34 minutes.
One of Field’s best chances came with 39 seconds left in the third quarter, when Walter Siegfried recovered a Ravenna fumble at the Ravens’ 32-yard line. Four plays later, though, Jaxxon Kelly thwarted the drive with an interception on the 25 on a fourth-and-8 play.
“That may have been the catch of the night,” Callihan said. “It was an incredible snag. I really couldn’t believe he had actually caught it, and we needed a stop there. Jaxxon made it happen.”
Another late-game drive for the Falcons stalled at the Ravenna 27 when they turned it over on downs, failing to convert a fourth-and-6.
McAmis finished with 145 yards rushing for the Falcons on 24 carries. Mikai Peeple had four receptions for 19 yards.
For Ravenna, Marshall totaled 80 yards on his 13 attempts. Thompson was Ross’ favorite target, with his two scoring receptions totaling 85 yards. Melzer finished with 35 yards on three catches and Ke’Shan Talbert totaled 16 yards receiving and 30 yards rushing.
“Tonight feels good, and I am so happy for our guys,” Callihan said. “Last week, we told our guys that they had 30 seconds to feel bad about the loss (56-7 vs. Streetsboro), then we were going to move on to do everything in our power to come in ready and prepared for this game. I think this could be a turning point for us, and I feel really good about it.”