August 29, 2014

Medina
Mostly clear
50°F

Panthers pose big test for Brunswick in home opener

BRUNSWICK — Emotions will be high.

The Brunswick football team heads into tonight’s home opener with Division III power Mentor Lake Catholic on a mission to earn respect, honor the tragic June deaths of former teammates Jeff Chaya and Blake Bartchak and return to the D-I playoffs.

A win over the Cougars, who demolished Strongsville 49-21 last week, would go a long, long way toward accomplishing those goals.

“We understand this is a big challenge,” third-year Blue Devils coach Luke Beal said. “We’re looking forward to it. We’re excited about it because with every big challenge comes a great opportunity.”

Lake Catholic has three state titles and the horses to make another deep playoff run this season. Led by 6-foot-3, 255-pound defensive end John Stepec, a Toledo recruit who also starts at fullback, the Cougars also have an offensive line that averages 260 pounds — including the 6-4, 300-pound Evan Grosel.

For as big and physical as they are in the trenches, their toughness begins at quarterback.

Senior Mark Baniewicz is the reason Lake Catholic runs the versatile pistol offense made famous by the University of Nevada. Against Strongsville, the 6-2, 200-pounder rushed for 198 yards while scoring four touchdowns and passing for another.

That was just in the first half, so it’s not hard to figure out the power duo of Baniewicz and Stepec will test Brunswick’s undersized but speedy defense to the max.

“Our defense takes pride in running to the ball well and tackling well,” Beal said. “That’s something that’s going to be really critical. We’ve got to play very good assignment football because they’ve got other big backs, too. If you just focus on the quarterback, they’ve got other guys who can hurt you.”

If Lake Catholic has a weakness, Strongsville may have exploited it last week.

After falling behind 35-0, the Mustangs went to quarterback Bobby Cole off the bench. In just over a half at the helm, the sophomore was 16-for-28 passing for 226 yards and brought Strongsville to within 42-21 with 9:25 left to play.

The passing game may play in Brunswick’s favor, as senior quarterback Dan Yohman has a boatload of speed at his disposal with running back Nick Roberts, slot back Keith Yohman and wideout Zach Parker.

“I think we’re going to have to utilize offensive balance,” said Beal, whose team had a 56-9 run-pass ratio last week in a 42-7 win at Padua. “It’s not a situation where we’re going to be able to consistently run right at them. We’re going to have to spread the ball around.”

The Blue Devils will also have to perform well in the kicking game, as field position may be the deciding factor in a matchup that appears pretty even on paper.

“Playing a team like this, you have to pay attention to every detail,” Beal said. “We’ve really focused a lot this week on special teams and making sure we’re sound and taking care of the football and not making mistakes. If you turn over the football against a team like Lake, they’re going to hurt you.”

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.