LUCAS -- Scott Spitler believes the success of his Lucas football teams is largely due to the fact his players do not fear failure.
"We don't fear failing, number one. There's a lot of freedom when you don't have that fear. You just play," the veteran coach said after the unbeaten Division VII Cubs knocked off a previously undefeated Division II Lakewood, 35-27, at Bob Wine Field.
No stone and sling were needed in this reported David vs. Goliath match. The Cubs came ready for battle.
"We understand it's not about the other team. Yeah, we prepare for what they do. But it's about us being a better team than we were last Friday and playing our brand of football," he said.
"I told the kids, win or lose, we will be a better team because of playing this competition."
The win moved Lucas, ranked No. 4 in Ohio among Division VII schools, to 5-0 and keeps the Cubs tops in the region in terms of a playoff berth. Lakewood fell to 4-1.
BIG PLAYS: Lucas used a couple of big plays and its typical ground-and-pound running attack to build a 35-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter before Lakewood rallied with a pair of late TD passes.
The first big play came when senior Noah Langston scooped up a fumble and raced 35 yards to score with 5:12 left in the second quarter. That TD gave Lucas its first lead, 14-13.
The second occurred when junior Corbin Toms blocked a Lakewood punt and senior Eric Barrino recovered it at the Rangers' 11-yard line. Junior Andrew Fanello scored on a 6-yard run two plays later, building the Lucas lead to 28-13 with 4:28 left in the third quarter.
The game was arranged late Wednesday afternoon after both schools saw scheduled opponents cancel. That left precious little time for Lakewood coach Tom Thome, a former assistant coach at Lucas for Spitler, to prepare his team for the Cubs' Wing-T offense that pounded out 270 yards rushing.
That effort was led by senior Grant Barrett (21 carries, 137 yards, three TDs) and Fanello (16 carries, 103 yards, one TD).
Despite the loss, Thome said it was a win for his program, now in his fourth year at the Cuyahoga County school. He has the Rangers headed in the right direction after posting a 5-25 record in his first three years.
"We wanted to be more battle tested. I wanted us to come on the road for about an hour and a half. I wanted to see our physicality and toughness. This is a win for both teams today," he said.
"Me and Spit both had our agendas. We both knew what we wanted to do. I am happy our kids kept fighting. This (Lucas) program ... I try to tell everyone in northeast Ohio that Lucas is no joke.
"You can put them in any division. They're tough as nails," he said.
Lakewood senior QB Lucas Winters completed nine of 14 passes for 130 yards, including TD passes of 49 yards to Alex Symons and 10 yards to Eddie Gillick in the last half of the fourth quarter. Winters also had a 52-yard TD run late in the first quarter to put Lakewood on top, 13-7.
Senior running back Hakeem Quran led Lakewood with 103 yards on 22 carries, including a 6-yard touchdown run on the Rangers' first possession.
FAMILIAR FOES: Thome said he jumped at the chance to return to Lucas for the game to reunite with his former school and team.
"I will be honest with you ... I loved it here. I love every part of this place. Spitler taught me how to be a coach. I was a young, arrogant college football player and I thought I could shake the world.
"Spit humbled me. He taught me how to be a professional. He taught me how to gameplan. There are so many things in my program. If you came to one of my practices, you'd be like, 'That's Scott Spitler, that's Scott Spitler, that's Scott Spitler.' I try to emulate that guy. He's my mentor. I love the man and hat's off to them. I love this community," Thome said.
His former boss said he didn't hesitate to take on a much larger Lakewood school, which has triple the high school enrollment of the Village of Lucas total population.
"A lot of people will say why you do play these (bigger) teams? Number one, I didn't want my seniors not to have a game this week. You're not promised next week. We really didn't a lot of time for preparation, which I think favors us, because it's hard to simulate what we do in a normal week," Spitler said.
'We told the kids to treat it like a heavyweight fight. Just keep throwing body blows and stepping forward."
NEXT UP: Lucas hosts Canton Central Catholic (1-4) next Friday. The Crusaders suffered their fourth straight loss in week five to New Philadelphia, 30-20. Lakewood is home next Friday against Parma Holy Name (1-3), whose week five game against Parma was cancelled.