By Adam Baum, email@example.com
Elder and Winton Woods has quickly become a can't-miss local football rivalry the last few years.
Friday night at Winton Woods, under those beloved lights that can often illuminate dreams or floodlight nightmares, was maybe the most legendary chapter in the rivalry as Elder handed the Warriors their first loss, 35-34, in an overtime game that traded momentum like playing cards.
After Elder took the opening overtime possession in on a Michael Bittner 1-yard touchdown run for a 35-28 lead, Winton Woods answered with a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kenny Mayberry but the extra point was wide left and the Panthers poured onto the field like a purple and white snowstorm.
The Warriors beat Elder in each of the last two seasons and three of the last five meetings have been decided by single digits.
"That's a really good team," said Elder head coach Doug Ramsey. "We just battled against ... offensively, shoot on both sides of the ball, they're as good as anybody we play. If they stay together, they can win a Division II state championship. The quarterback's a good player, (Miyan Williams) is a stud, they do good things on defense.
"I told our guys we're starting to get on a roll. I talked all week to them that a lot of times you get to a point and say, 'Are we gonna play good this week?' I told them, I was fully confident that we would play well tonight. It's just a special group of guys. They fought through three losses. They fought through going up to Cleveland getting your butt kicked by St. Edward, then a close game with Ignatius and a close game with X and then we come back last week and played really good against Moeller, and then beat a good team this week."
For a little more than a quarter, it looked like Winton Woods, ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press Division II state poll, would find the gas pedal at home and fly by the Panthers.
It's no secret Mayberry's favorite deep threat is junior Raequan Prince. The pair connected six times for 146 yards and two touchdowns, the first of which came early in the second quarter on a 26-yard strike to put Winton Woods ahead, 14-0.
After Winton Woods went up 14-0, Elder closed the first half by running 19 offensive plays for 158 yards and two touchdowns, while Winton Woods ran five plays for one yard the rest of the first half.
"It wasn't just that missed field goal," said Ramsey, who called timeout as the Warriors lined up for the extra point in overtime. "We got down 14-0 and it looked bad. I thought, 'Shoot, we might get run out of here.' We started making some plays on offense, got that score and then got the game tied at half and that was big going into halftime tied."
The second half was a study in momentum. Winton Woods senior Cornell Beachem served as a spark all night. He opened the second half with a 46-yard punt return that set up a 30-yard field goal that sailed wide left.
Elder answered with a drive of its own, culminating in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Bittner to senior Danny Faillace, giving the Panthers their first lead of the game, 21-14.
"We didn't really expect many people to come out," said Bittner, who was 18 of 26 for 240 yards, and two touchdowns, to go with 68 more yards and three touchdowns on the ground. "It felt like the whole Pit was with us tonight. That's what really pulled us through at the end."
With less than a minute left in the third quarter, Beachem struck again with a perfectly executed fake punt that led to a 41-yard touchdown pass from Mayberry to Prince to tie the game, 21-21.
Elder returned fire with an 8-yard touchdown run by Bittner, set up on an interception by senior linebacker Brett Marsh.
With 6:51 left in regulation, Winton Woods put together an 80-yard drive aided by two big plays by Beachem to tie the game 28-28 on a 1-yard Mayberry run.
Elder (5-3) needed the win to have any shot at making the playoffs.
Bittner, who began the season as the backup and has played well in place of the injured Danny Nieman, said: "We knew that this was a huge game for us regarding the playoffs. With this win, we have all the confidence in the world. We feel like we can play with anybody."
Winton Woods, proven to never be an easy out, will certainly be a factor in the postseason. The Warriors have a trip in Week 9 to St. Francis DeSales before hosting Moeller in the regular season finale. Winton Woods star linebacker Chris Oats did not play most of the second half Friday night with what looked like a leg injury.
Elder wraps up with the International School of Broward (Fla.) next week, followed by a trip back to North Bend Road for a meeting with rival La Salle.