By Eric Clutter | Correspondent
With 2012 All-Ohio running back Gary Strain now graduated, junior running back Brandon Berry officially took over as the Mogadore Wildcats' No. 1 running back Friday night against visiting Norton.
And his night did not get off to a good start.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Berry, who amassed 950 yards in 12 games as a sophomore, fumbled twice in the contest's first seven minutes. However, Berry did not let the miscues linger in his mind.
"I had to keep my head up and I could not let down my team, so I had to come back strong," he said of the early adversity. "My teammates told me to shake it off and my coach told me to shake it off also, to come back strong, don't pout about it and keep the momentum going."
It is hard to imagine how he could have responded any better after Berry ran through the Panthers' defense for 312 yards and three scores to highlight the Wildcats' 49-34 opening-night victory.
Berry had 195 yards and two third-quarter scoring runs as the Wildcats scored 21 straight points to open the second half after holding a slim 21-20 lead at the half.
"The yards don't really matter, it is the win," said Berry. "And the reason I get all the yards is the backs in the backfield with me and the line. That's who I can thank for that."
Berry's partner behind quarterback Anthony Ricci, sophomore Nathan Alexander, also had a huge night.
Alexander had a rushing and receiving touchdown, collected 98 yards on the ground and also helped pave holes for his teammate.
"Hats off to our offensive line," said Mogadore head coach Matt Adorni. "We have four new offensive linemen up there and they stepped up huge tonight against a physical football team."
Ricci's 19-yard pass to Alexander with 20 seconds to go in the opening quarter tied the affair at 7-all.
Norton (0-1) had taken a 7-0 lead when senior running back Jake Fling rambled 72 yards for a score just 49 seconds into the season. Fling also had a monster game, and if not for Berry's headlining performance, he would have easily been the star of the game. Nonetheless, Fling tallied four rushing TDs -- three of which were 49 yards or longer -- and finished with 244 yards.
"Obviously we have to do a better job defensively," said Adorni. "That was supposed to be one of our strengths coming back, but they had a darn good running back. That kid (Fling) is very good, very talented. We knew they were going to be one of the toughest teams we were going to play this year."
If not for a missed extra point following a well-executed drive that resulted in a touchdown just five seconds prior to the break, the game would have been deadlocked at 21.
As it stood, Mogadore (1-0) took the narrow advantage to the locker room then came out and took command, scoring three straight times, including a Ricci 36-yard scoring strike to sophomore Zedekiah Pollock that increased the gap to 42-20.
Norton continued to fight behind Fling, who had a 76-yard touchdown run nullified by a chop block that would have trimmed the Mogadore lead to eight points early in the fourth quarter.