CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio – It was a night of high emotions for many reasonable , as Cleveland Heights (9-1, 7-0 GCC) marked Senior Night with an imperfect 28-12 triumph over the struggling Euclid Panthers (1-8, 0-5 GCC). However, the win was bittersweet due to two reasons, no fans of the general public and the absence of Senior quarterback Ammaar Lakes, who suffered a late injury in last week’s thrilling 62-52 victory.
On Thursday night, Cleveland Heights officials put out a notice that no fans of the general public would not be able to attend out of an "abundance of caution." Only students from either High school that were able to attend was Tickets will only be available to the families of Heights High and Euclid's football players, cheerleaders, and marching band members. Heights High or Euclid students who are guests had to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. An environment resembling of the 2020 Covid season.
Despite this setback, the Tigers found strength in depth. Sophomore quarterback Asher Wilson and junior quarterback Emere Atkins took the reins, evoking memories of the famed 2006 Florida Gators quarterback tandem of Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. Their combined efforts showcased the team's depth and a glimpse into the future for next season.
"I gotta credit my offensive staff." Tigers Head Coach Mac Stephens said postgame about the gameplan for his duo quarterbacks.
"Coach (Kahari) Hicks, Coach (Brian) Stephenson, and Coach (Germaine) Smith did a great job game planning. We knew throughout the week that Ammaar wouldn't be cleared for this week so we had to get creative."
Early momentum was seized by the Tigers when 4-star junior running back, Marquise Davis, dashed through the Panthers' defense for a 44-yard touchdown on the opening drive. Unfortunately, Davis faced an undisclosed injury soon after, which limited his impact for the remainder of the match. Davis finished the game with 14 rushes for 75 yards and a touchdown.
Yet, Coach Stephens showcased his strategic prowess and trust in his players by employing a diverse platoon of runners. This included Atkins and the multi-talented senior, John “Flash” Gordon Jr. Atkins secured his name on the scorecard with a short yet decisive three-yard rush into the end zone. Gordon, followed up two drives later with a 6-yard touchdown run of his own, giving the Tigers a 20-6 lead to end the third quarter.
The game's climax arrived in the fourth quarter when "Flash" Gordon, living up to his moniker, raced 56 yards to Cedar Road securing the Tigers' victory. Gordon's night wasn't just about offense; he displayed his defensive skills by intercepting a pass from Panthers quarterback Marquise Hall Jr. later in the game. Hall faced further pressure with another interception earlier in the game, this time by the Tigers' senior defensive back Isaiah Pillar.
"I see the quarterback roll out late in the game. They were desperate and needed a score and it was a minute left in the game, so I knew eventually he'd throw it up just had to go get it," Gordon Jr. said about the late game interception.
In a strategic move, the Panthers, lacking a traditional quarterback, utilized wildcat packages to accumulate rushing yards. Despite the odds, Hall showcased resilience, attempting to bridge the gap with 20 rushes amassing 110 yards. Highlighting the Panthers' offensive efforts was Hall's 35-yard touchdown connection with wide receiver Kei'Shaun Telfair, made all the more spectacular as the ball was narrowly missed for an interception by Telfair.
The night, however, belonged to Cleveland Heights. Their resilience, adaptability, and depth were on full display, ensuring the seniors had a night to remember and setting a promising tone for the playoffs ahead.
It's the final week of the 23-24 Ohio High School Football season. Cleveland Heights will travel less than 10 minutes south down Lee Road to face rival Shaker Heights Red Raiders (7-2, 4-2 GCC). Euclid will cap off it's season on the road facing the Mentor Cardinals (5-3, 4-1 GCC). With a win the Tigers will be the outright Greater Cleveland Conference Champions. With a loss to Shaker, Mentor will be co-champions. Both kickoffs will be at 7 p.m.