CINCINNATI – Jack Mazza and Bryce Martin couldn’t stop celebrating in the end zone Saturday night.
With family and friends snapping their photos, the two Elder football teammates high-fived and smiled at what just occurred at The Pit.
Unranked Elder defeated Lakewood St. Edward – the Associated Press state-ranked No. 1 and two-time reigning Division I state champion - 15-9.
“The best experience of our lives,” said Elder junior tight end/fullback Bryce Martin.
And the result couldn’t be any sweeter for the Panthers, who were questioned in the preseason about how much experience they graduated a season ago.
“Everybody had been doubting us saying we wouldn’t be any good this year because we lost (quarterback) Peyton Ramsey and (offensive lineman) Tommy Kraemer,” Martin said.
“But here we are knocking off the No. 1 team again.”
The juniors were freshmen when Elder upset the nationally No. 1 ranked Eagles in 2014 at The Pit.
This year’s Elder team lost the season opener to Pickerington Central at Nippert Stadium but rattled off two road wins in preparation for its first home game.
Throw in the best week of practice this team has had and a strong defensive effort, and the Panthers were primed for an upset.
“I am really proud of the way the kids played on defense,” Elder coach Doug Ramsey said. “We talked about it all week. It’s not about who has the best players. It’s about who has the best team. We competed our butts off and we got a big win tonight.”
The Elder defense stood tall in the second half when the Panthers needed it the most. It limited the Eagles to a 24-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter.
“We all came together,” said senior defensive back Zach Lyons, who had a game-high 10 tackles. “No else believed in us but we believed in each other. We believed in one another and did our jobs every single play. We kept making adjustments. Every kid was physical tonight.”
St. Ed’s (3-1) is ranked No. 8 nationally by the MaxPreps computer ratings. The all-time series with Elder (3-1) is now tied at 7-all.
Ramsey told his team he was very proud of the win but he wants to continue the momentum. Elder plays host to Pittsburgh University Prep in the second of three consecutive home games Sept. 23.
He said the team started to believe Saturday night’s win was possible this week. He said the offensive line played the best it did all season.
“It means a lot to these guys,” Ramsey said. “This team has been doubted from the get-go.”
Mazza had 20 carries for 106 yards and set the tone early with a 34-yard run in the first quarter. He also gained 11 yards on a shuffle pass from junior quarterback Danny Nieman to put the ball at the St. Ed’s 1-yard line.
“That was the time of my life,” said Mazza, also a junior. “That was my first game of the Pit. I was just living it up. It’s an Elder thing.”
Mazza said he couldn’t thank his offensive line enough for creating open space.
“That was unbelievable,” Mazza said. “It was so easy. When you get holes you can drive a truck through it’s so easy.”
Elder moved the ball nicely on its opening drive after forcing St. Ed’s to punt on its first possession.
Sophomore quarterback Michael Bittner scored on a 1-yard touchdown run and the kick failed at the 6:53 mark of the first quarter. That completed an 8-play, 86-yard drive that took 3:08.
Bittner proved a spark offensively in certain situation as a quarterback or wide receiver.
“Great atmosphere,” Bittner said. “Being out here at the Pit the first time this season with all our fans – it was an unbelievable experience. I will never forget it.”
Elder had 171 yards of offense in the first quarter. Nieman was 7 of 7 passing before his first incompletion. Nieman was a freshman when Elder won in 2014 and said he enjoyed the opportunity to perform at the Pit.
Ramsey is very confident in Nieman, who was 19 of 31 for 232 yards including completing a very difficult 18-yard touchdown pass to senior wide Adam Schwallie in the third quarter.
“He gets in a game and he wows you,” Ramsey said. “…Danny has exceeded expectations – no doubt about that.”
Nieman was 13 of 20 passing for 125 yards in the first half. Schwallie finished with seven receptions for 115 yards.
Elder took a 9-0 lead when freshman kicker Sam Harmeyer had a 26-yard field goal at the 10:16 mark of the second quarter.
The Panthers stopped a fake punt attempt by the Eagles and received excellent field position. But fumble after a reception inside the 10 caused Elder’s first turnover at the 2:57 mark of the second quarter.
St. Ed’s took advantage, and senior quarterback Kevin Kramer found senior Kordell Hoover for a 65-yard touchdown pass connection. The kick failed, but St. Ed’s closed the gap to 9-6 at the 2:45 mark of the second quarter.
St. Ed’s had a golden opportunity inside the Elder 1 late in the second quarter but the clock expired before it could run its third down.
The Elder defense again stood tall and Ramsey pumped his fist as he lauded them on the field before entering the locker room.