GARFIELD HTS. — Gritty. Tough. Determined.
Those are just a few words to describe Medina’s football team after it held off undefeated Garfield Heights 33-26 in Northeast Ohio Conference cross-divisional play.
After scoring 16 unanswered points to close the first half Friday night, the Bees (2-2) built a 23-13 lead until Mother Nature stepped and postponed the game until Saturday afternoon.
It was hard for Medina to regain momentum, but it made key plays on both sides of the ball against the Bulldogs (3-1).
“I told the kids that for the first time all season, I saw them dig down deep inside themselves and say, ‘We’re not going to allow this to happen,’ and they fought back,” Bees coach Dan Sutherland said. “That’s what we saw all preseason, but we haven’t seen in the games. They fought back today.
“That was nice to see, and I’m proud of how they fought back from adversity.”
After giving up a 9-yard touchdown run by David Celinski just 1:39 into the restart, Medina had its back against the wall.
The Bees responded with a defense that forced two of its five turnovers in the fourth quarter, a first-year kicker connecting on a 31-yard field goal and a freshman running back getting a second chance to put the game on ice.
“I just think we’re tired of losing,” said senior safety Kenny Wilder, who had two interception returns for touchdowns. “We have two loses and we just wanted to win. I think we just wanted to more.
“I thought it was hard (coming back on Saturday) because you have to get yourself back into that mindset. We had the momentum going yesterday and it was hard to get it kicking again, but we got it going and I think we we’re ready.”
The Bees were called for a mysterious facemask penalty on an incomplete pass by Garfield Heights quarterback Jameel Miller (7-for-19, 215 yards, 4 interceptions) on fourth-and-18. It gave the Bulldogs an extra play on the Medina 25-yard line with less than 3 minutes left in regulation.
Medina’s Brandon Fisher then came up with the biggest tackle of his career, as the senior came from the outside to hit Miller and force a fumble the Bees recovered.
“I’m lost for words right now because that was ridiculous,” Fisher said. “It was a huge play, but I couldn’t have done it without my team. All of us did our job, and I just feel like we went out there and did what we had to do.”
That’s when freshman Jim Daw, who lost a fumble on the previous possession, sealed the victory with three straight carries that resulted in a first down, allowing Medina to take a final knee and end the game.
The plays from Fisher and Daw were just two of a handful of key moments in the closing minutes.
Just seconds after having a touchdown pass from Collin Minor to Troy Grabowski called back, the Bees lineup up for a 31-yard field goal.
Enter senior newcomer Nate Justice, who was making his season debut because starter Dean McNeil was with the boys soccer team at North Ridgeville. Justice, a defensive end by trade, calmly connect a kick that would’ve been good from 40 to put Medina up 26-19 with 9:31 left.
“I mean, what a pressure situation and he nailed it … I’m so proud of him,” Sutherland said. “You never know when you opportunity is going to happen and you have to make it happen, and Nate did a good job doing that.”
Two possessions later, Wilder picked off Miller again. Unlike his previous pick-six that had nothing but daylight in front of him Friday, the senior weaved in and out of traffic before turning on the jets for a 65-yard score.
“I saw a couple of lineman coming, but then, I don’t know, I got a little nervous,” Wilder said with a grin. “I had to put on the wheels a little.”
Medina finished with just 202 yards total offense because of several short-yardage situations, but made plays when it needed to.
That, combined with a defense that picked off four passes and forced four fumbles — recovering one to seal the win — resulted in a combined team effort.
“Our defense made a ton of plays, ton of picks and a lot of stops … but our offense did step up, too,” Fisher said. “Our team was focused. We really wanted this win and we’ve been banking on this since last week.”
The Medina marching band was not in attendance for the finish of the game Saturday due to a prior commitment to attend a band competition in Louisville.
Contact Dan Brown at email@example.com.