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MENTOR, Ohio — They traveled more than two hours to his hometown to practice, they showed a video tribute to him on the scoreboard, and they drummed up donations on behalf of his cancer-stricken fiancee.
This day was about Ben Pike. Fittingly, his former cohorts on the defensive line at the University of Toledo honored him the best way they know how.
With the man of the hour braving chilly temperatures on the sideline at his high school alma mater, the unit that Pike was once a part of controlled a scrimmage that will soon be forgotten on a day that will long be remembered.
The defense left Mentor High School with the upper hand Friday, prevailing 46-43. No one other than maybe coach Matt Campbell is sure how those numbers came about amid a convoluted scoring formula. That didn’t matter. Only two things did. The defensive line, a concern because of several defections, looked stout. More importantly, Ashlee Barrett has a legion of supporters. A couple hundred family, friends, fans, and area high school players turned out to the scrimmage titled Faith Not Fear, Pike’s and Barrett’s motto in the couple’s year-long battle with leukemia. The soon-to-be Mrs. Pike underwent a stem cell transplant a day earlier in St. Louis, an operation doctors informed her fiance went well.
“I was so blown away with the turnout,” Pike said.
Glad-handing most of the evening, Pike did get a chance or two to see his pals on defense abuse a depleted offensive line. Impressing the most was end Jayrone Elliott, who is making a strong case to be an every-down player for the first time. The rising senior never was far from the ball and even dropped into coverage a bit. His sack of Logan Woodside on the final possession, with the help of tackle Orion Jones, enabled the defense to overcome two late Jeremiah Detmer field goals for the win.
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“That means everything, just to see Ben happy and out here with the guys,” said Elliott, who has put on about 10 pounds to help him stuff the run. “I’m just happy that we can come out here and put on a show for Ben and support him and his fiancee.”
Also pummeling an offensive line that was missing three starters to injury were Grant Pleasant, whose sack and forced fumble of Woodside resulted in a turnover, Chris Collins, who knifed into the backfield to record a loss, and Elijah Jones. Minus All-Mid-American Conference blockers Zac Kerin and Greg Mancz, and guard Jeff Myers, the 300-pound Jones caused serious disruption in the backfield.
One of the offense’s three touchdowns came on quarterback Dwight Macon sprinting 39 yards past the third-team defense.
“If you would have came last Friday, I would have asked where they were,” Campbell said of the defensive line. “I thought they played well and you expect that from veterans.”
No one in Gainesville, Fla., should start trembling just yet. Toledo, which will open Campbell’s second season with a huge test against national-title contender University of Florida, must replace six defensive linemen, including three starters. Among them is Pike, who gave up his senior season to be with Barrett, a former basketball player at Toledo whom he met his freshman year at a faith-based gathering on campus.
“His legacy he left on our football program is certainly something that will be remembered for a long time,” Campbell said.
LAUTERBUR TO BE HONORED: Frank Lauterbur, who became Toledo’s head football coach 50 years ago, will be honored Friday at the Rockets’ spring game. Players and coaches who served under Lauterbur are invited to attend.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160, or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.