WESTLAKE — For the first time since 2014, Westlake and Rocky River will meet on the football field. The longtime rivals will face each other to open the 2019 season. The announcement was made today at Westlake High School.
Both Westlake’s and Rocky River’s athletic directors and head coaches were there for the announcement, along with Dan Denihan, general manager of Westwood Country Club, the partner sponsor for the renewed rivalry. The teams will play for the inaugural Westwood Cup at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, at Westlake’s UH-St. John Stadium.
“We’re super excited — I think I speak for Mark (Wagner, Rocky River athletic director) as well — that we are renewing this rivalry,” Westlake athletic director Tony Cipollone said. “When I first came here 10 years ago, Rocky River was on our schedule every year and it was always a great game, very highly competitive game with great crowds.”
In the 61 seasons the two teams played, the series was hotly contested. The Demons held a 32-28-1 advantage over the Pirates.
Next season’s opener will be the first time Rocky River’s Josh Wells and Westlake’s Dan LaRocco will square off. LaRocco is entering his first season as Demons coach, while Wells is set to begin his fifth with the Pirates, taking over one year after the teams stopped playing initially.
“Any time you can add a game with an adjoining neighbor — Westlake’s had a pretty nice run. They’ve been down a little bit here, but they were in the second round of the playoffs a few years ago,” Wells said. “They’re a quality football program. Coach LaRocco has a lot of energy around the program. It’s a natural rivalry and it’s going to be a fun game.”
Last season, the Pirates finished 7-5 (3-3 Great Lakes Conference) and made it to the second round of the playoffs before losing to Norwalk 56-7. Westlake went 1-9 (1-8 Southwestern Conference) in Jason Hall’s last year as coach, with the Demons’ lone win coming in a 34-33 thriller over North Olmsted.
LaRocco said during today’s news conference that he was excited to be a part of the rivalry and he hopes the game doesn’t “go into the dust again.”
“I think it’s really important, any time you have a trophy game, that you make it about the kids,” LaRocco said. “I think our kids have bought in, our kids are excited. That makes it easy for me. As a person who’s new to the community, I’m learning what it means to play against Rocky River.”
Along with sponsorship of the football game, Westwood will host a dinner for both teams in the week leading up to the game. Both school’s girls golf teams will also play next fall as part of a tri-match with St. Joseph Academy at the country club.
Denihan said there was no hesitation when the schools approached the club about sponsoring the game.
“(We were excited about) the community outreach,” Denihan said. “Wanting to continually sponsor activities in Westlake and Rocky River. Probably half of our membership and more than half of our employees are both drawn from those communities, so it was just a natural fit.”
Wagner said in a news release that Rocky River was “excited to have Westlake back on the football schedule. We have played in many close and hard fought games with Westlake over the years and the atmosphere around the games has always been exciting. To have this game to open the season with the Westwood Cup to compete for will be a fun and memorable way for our teams to start the football season.”
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