LUCAS — Coming off a brutal 31-6 loss last week to undefeated Crestview, Lucas had a lot riding on its game Friday night. The Cubs had a chance to bounce back and remain above .500, secure a win on their Homecoming night, and avoid a three-game losing streak.
However, in a gritty effort, Lucas fell 26-23 to Lima Central Catholic, giving the Cubs their first three-game losing streak since 2013. It also made Lucas 0-3 against the Thunderbirds since the 2014 season.
Fueled by a strong run game, Lucas came out hot and needed just six plays to punch in its first score of the night. Senior quarterback Andrew Smollen, who was crowned Homecoming king just before kickoff, powered into the end zone on a lead run play to put his team ahead 7-0 just three minutes into the game.
The Cubs (3-4) held strong defensively, forcing two turnovers on downs and blocking a field goal attempt. However, it did not take long into the second quarter for Thunderbirds junior quarterback Carson Parker to heat up. Parker rushed three times on a five-play scoring drive, finally breaking the goal line on a 9-yard scramble to tie things up at the 7:30 mark.
The Cubs quickly bounced back and took a 10-7 lead when junior kicker Aiden Culler drilled a 35-yard field goal. However, after getting the ball back with 1:38 to go in the half, Lucas stalled out at the 44-yard line and elected to fake a punt.
But the Thunderbirds (4-3) were not fooled, forcing a turnover on downs. Starting thee ensuing drive on the 47-yard line with under 30 seconds remaining, Parker once again took control, this time with his arm. With time expiring, he heaved a 35-yard jump ball to junior receiver Billy Bourk, who completed a spectacular catch in the corner of the end zone to secure a 14-10 halftime lead and shift all the momentum Lucas had to Lima Central.
“If we punt it, [Lima] probably doesn’t even try to move the ball with 28 seconds,” said Lucas coach Scott Spitler. “[I] was the problem tonight and [my] decision making on special teams, and I have to be better as a head coach, especially with my kids playing as hard as they can.”
When asked about the play before the half, Lima Central coach Scott Palte said, “[We] probably would have been pinned inside the 10 with 20 seconds to go. We might have taken a knee or tried to run a couple plays. You don’t really expect to give up a [35-yard] Hail Mary on the last play, but — coach Spitler does a great job. He’s a tremendous football coach.”
Both teams were held scoreless in the third quarter, but Parker stepped up big in the fourth, scoring with his arm as well as his legs. First, he found sophomore receiver Matthew Quatman for an 11-yard touchdown pass. Later, he scored on a 2-yard run on an option play.
“He’s a really good football player. He’s just a big strong kid, a strong runner, he’s got a good arm — he had a lot of tough yards,” said Palte. “[Parker’s] tough to bring down. The line did a great job, the backs did a great job, and the receivers did a great job blocking. He hit it and we were able to have some success.”
Success may be an understatement. Parker, who rushed for an astounding 241 yards on 30 carries and passed for 161 yards on 16 attempts, could not be stopped. His dynamic ability left Lucas without answers.
A large part of Parker’s success came from the read-option. With tremendous field vision and decision making, he was able to blow past Lucas linebackers on his way to nine carries of 10 or more yards. With support from senior running back Gabe Cira, who rushed for 82 yards on nine carries, it was all the Cubs could do to merely slow down the Thunderbirds offense.
“This is the best offense that we’ve faced so far this season because of what [Parker] brings to the quarterback position,” said Spitler.
The Cubs also scored twice in the fourth quarter but were unable to regain the lead. Smollen completed a 9-yard pass to junior running back Logan Toms for a score and then found senior running back Andrew Fanello on a 25-yard pass for another touchdown.
Spitler took full responsibility for his team’s loss saying, “[Our] kids did everything I asked them to do this week. We had a great week of preparation, and they played their butts off tonight. [I] didn’t do a good job in the special teams game tonight with decision making. This one is on me. Not punting there and giving them the ball in the middle of the field right before half – I cost the team tonight.”
Even with the loss, Lucas showed signs of improvement, especially in the passing game. Smollen completed 11 of 22 attempts for 155 yards and two touchdowns. Senior receiver Corbin Toms, who exited the game due to injury, led the Cubs with five catches for 92 yards. Logan Toms also posted a strong performance on the ground, rushing for 161 yards on 13 carries.
“This is the third time we’ve played these guys. Every one of them has been an absolute battle,” said Palte. “They’re great kids and play hard-nosed football. I’ve got a ton of respect for that program. They have great kids and great coaches.”
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Lucas Cubs fall to Lima Central Catholic Thunderbirds 26-23