Mike Kopachy's ITCL Tier Two champs have a playoff game.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- When the OHSAA announced the football playoff pairings Sunday, the perennials (as expected) were announced.
Canfield (8-2), the defending Div. II state runner-up; Mooney (9-0), the defending Div. IV state runner-up; and South Range (10-0), a state semifinalist in Div. V in 2005, have week 11 dates.
Other familiar faces whose seasons have been extended include Warren Harding (7-3), Niles (9-1), Warren JFK (10-0), McDonald (7-3), Columbiana (8-2) and Crestview (8-2).
And from the Department of Irony, Trumbull Athletic Conference champion Hubbard (9-1) finished second in Division III Region 9, earning them a return bout with No. 7 Liberty.
The Leopards' (9-1) first regular season loss in three seasons came 10 days ago against the Eagles, 35-0, at Hubbard. Saturday at 7 p.m., the TAC rivals will face off on the same field.
But the best story to emerge for this weekend's playoff picture is the storybook season enjoyed by Western Reserve, champion of the new Inter Tri-County League's Tier Two.
"We've come a long way and we're excited," said Blue Devils coach Mike Kopachy, whose fifth-seeded Blue Devils (8-2) will play at No. 4 Ledgemont (8-2) Friday at 7:30 p.m. in a Div. VI, Region 21 quarterfinal.
A long way, indeed.
In Kopachy's first season in 2003, the Blue Devils had 19 players and finished 1-9 playing in the old Inter-County League.
The blessing for Western Reserve came when the ICL announced a merger with the Tri-County League, matching them more closely with schools of similar enrollments.
And their regular season schedules suddenly had plenty of winnable games. Where once the smaller schools had little hope for .500 season let alone a playoff game, now the league's best teams contend for playoff spots. McDonald (7-3, 5-2) qualified as the Region 21, No. 7 seed.
Although the Blue Devils lost to McDonald, 35-28, they won all of their other Tier Two games to win their first league title since 1989. It's also Western Reserve's first winning record in 17 seasons.
Western Reserve's other loss was to Columbiana, an ITCL Tier One team and the top seed in Region 21. While a rematch with either is possible, Kopachy said the Blue Devils are focused on Ledgemont, a team they scrimmaged in August and defeated, 20-7.
Kopachy calls the Redskins "a physical football team with a couple of good backs. I'm sure they have their kids believing in themselves."
Kopachy played at Chaney High and then was an assistant for Cowboys coach Ron Berdis. He took over at Reserve in 2003 with a four-year plan.
"We wanted to start with one class and see it through for four years," Kopachy said. "We figured we had to get it turned around in that time span, make some progress every year.
"We're here now because of all the hard work that was put in over the past four years," said Kopachy, who calls this year's senior class his "bricks in the wall."
Kopachy credits Berdis as his primary influence.
"At Chaney, we prepared like no other team and Coach Berdis has installed that value of preparation into me. There's a lot of him in what I do.
"He really pointed me in the direction to be the coach I am today," said Kopachy, who added that over the past three seasons Berdis has lent him an ear when needed."