The Devils thrive on a swarming defense and a strong running game, and both came through Friday.
By BILL ALBRIGHT
HERMITAGE, Pa -- Any way you look at it, Sharpsville proved to be a little devilish to Conneaut Valley Friday night at Hornet Stadium.
Shaking off a slow start, the Blue Devils erupted to score four fourth-quarter touchdowns en route to a 40-15 pounding of the Indians in the first round of the District 10 Class A playoffs.
Sharpsville will now meet Iroquois, a 30-15 winner over Linesville in the opposite bracket.
"Everybody just expects us to blow teams out and run up and down the field," said Sharpsville coach Paul Piccirilli. "They [Conneaut Valley] played us tough in the early going and you have to give them credit, regardless of how they got here."
The Devils scored on their first possession of the game when Ray Rotell booted his first of two field goals from 32 yards out on the next-to-last play of the opening period, but the Devil lead was short-lived as the Indians came back to tally their first of two scores on the initial play of the second period when Tanner Bechtel ripped off a 53-yard jaunt to paydirt.
"Although we didn't score much, I thought our defense played tough in the first half," said Piccirilli. "The only play they really had was that big run, and the funny thing about that is that our defensive coach was yelling the play out."
The lead for keeps: The Blue Devils took the lead for keeps late in the second quarter following a Bill Stiger interception of a Mike Henry aerial, with Eric Major doing the honors from 8 yards out with 2:47 remaining.
Again, the Indian offense couldn't move the ball following Major's score, and Sharpsville added three more points on Rotell's 28-yard effort to take a 13-7 lead to the dressing room at the intermission.
The Devils thrive on a swarming defense and a strong running game on offense, and both came through in the win. The defense picked off three CV passes as well as recovered a pair of Indian fumbles, while the ground game, led by Ron Haywood with 109 yards on 20 carries, amassed a total of 219 yards.
"We rely on our defense and we count heavily on our running game, and both came through for us tonight," said Piccirilli. "We are proud of that and I thought the kids played a strong game."
After a scoreless third period that saw the Sharpsville lead continue to hold at 13-7, the Devil special teams and defensive unit both stepped up as they ripped off 27 unanswered points to turn the game into a rout.
"Our defense bends a little sometimes, but it doesn't break too often," said Piccirilli. "It is something we have relied on the last six years and it has become a tradition with us."
Brandon Pavone used a nifty punt return to set up a Haywood 2-yard run less than two minutes into the period, and on Valley's next possession, Pavone intercepted a Henry pass and returned the theft to the 1-yard line where Bill Stiger went over on the first play.
Again, the Indians couldn't escape the shadows of their own end zone following Stiger's score and Haywood, following a 44-yard run by Randy Veccia, scored his second touchdown on a 1-yard run.
With less than five minutes left, Mike Kulka completed the Sharpsville scoring when he pounced on a CV fumble in the end zone before Jeremiah Conley caught a 14-yard pass from Henry for the Indians' final score.