Cleveland leads Perry past Lake in rematch

Feb 2, 2017 5:27 PM

PERRY TWP. On one of those nights where Lake did everything it could to keep Perry’s offense off the field, Panther senior Tevion Cleveland found the ball anyway.

Cleveland returned a fumble 16 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter, and the Panthers made enough big plays to survive an off night offensively, beating the visiting Blue Streaks, 21-7, in a Division II regional quarterfinal on Friday night.

The game’s key play came moments after Lake, trailing 7-0, forced a Perry punt inside Blue Streak territory. Perry safety Max Baker came up and stripped Blue Streak running back Cameron Martin deep in the backfield on first down, the ball bounced off the turf and directly into the hands of Cleveland, who sprinted 16 yards into the end zone with 3:19 left in the third quarter.

“It was a perfect bounce, and it went straight into my hands,” Cleveland said, crediting Baker for making the play. “I just went in with it.”

Added Perry coach Keith Wakefield, “He finds a way to get it, doesn’t he? He’s electric, isn’t he? Yeah, he’s electric.”

Cleveland carried 18 times for 93 yards and a 3-yard touchdown, which came on the first play of the second quarter. Malachi Strickland added 78 yards on 20 carries, including a 10-yard TD with 10:18 remaining that gave the Panthers a 21-0 lead.

Next Friday, Perry (9-2) will meet Columbus Franklin Heights, which beat Pataskala Licking Heights, 40-32.

“There’s 16 left (in Division II); that’s all I told them,” said Wakefield, whose team beat Lake, 35-0, in Week 8. “I said that last year. You just have to do that. We didn’t play very well — and I’m not slighting Lake for that — but, at this point, we want to move on. You correct your mistakes and move forward.”

Although both teams were short-handed — the Panthers were without wingback Tyler Cowan, one of their better blockers, and Andy Price, one of their better corners — the Blue Streaks lost two of their best players at the worst time. First, senior TE-LB Brandon Hadinger rolled his ankle in practice, forcing him to watch Friday’s game from the sidelines on crutches and a walking boot. Then, on the game’s third play, Joel Francis (the Blue Streaks’ leading rusher) injured his left knee and never returned, although he spent the early part of the second half running sprints on the sideline in hopes that his knee would respond.

“I’m proud of our effort; we played hard on every snap,” said Lake coach Dan DeGeorge, who was without senior QB-DB Zack Straley. “We were a little undermanned, but give credit to Perry. They’re a very good football team, they’re a lot stronger than us and that showed.

“We made a couple mistakes, turned the ball over and didn’t get a couple fourth downs. If we have those plays back, it’s possibly a different ballgame.”

Other than the fumble, Martin — who was sick earlier in the day — played a terrific game, running 27 times for 74 yards, with 21 of those carries coming in the first half. He also caught four passes for 27 yards, including a nifty one-hander near the sideline. QB Owen Goodheart completed 11 of 14 passes for 113 yards and a 19-yard touchdown to Zach Sturmi with 5:28 left.

Lake then attempted an onside kick, but never got the second bounce and Perry easily recovered. From there, the Panthers ran 12 plays to earn a first down at the Lake 10, then took a knee to run out the clock.

“I told Dan before the game, ‘I really didn’t want to play you guys,' and he said the same,” Wakefield said. “Our offense is a little different, but the teams that play us all the time know how to play us a little better.”


Reach Joe at 330-580-8573 or

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