By Rob Todor
Don’t expect Andy Hake to change anything this week as he prepares the Western Reserve Blue Devils for their first-round playoff game.
The Blue Devils (10-0), who completed an unbeaten regular-season with a victory over rival McDonald, 35-7, last Friday, will open the Division VI playoffs with a home game against Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph on Saturday night.
Western Reserve is one of 13 area teams to make the postseason.
It’s one of the smallest fields of local teams since the OHSAA went to 32 qualifiers per division, but it’s also one of the first times in recent years that there are no local matchups in the first round.
Six games — in divisions II, III and V — will be contested on Friday night.
The seven games in divisions I, IV and VI will be played on Saturday.
Western Reserve, which should finish as the Associated Press poll champion when the final voting is released today, also had the most computer points of any Div. VI team.
None of that matters on the field, of course, and Hake said as much on Sunday. He’s more concerned about the talent that VA-SJ will bring on Saturday night.
“They have a big team, and they’re very athletic,” said Hake. “There’s no doubt we’re going to have to play our best game of the season.”
The Vikings are no strangers to the playoffs, this being their 14th appearance all-time. But the last VA-SJ was in the postseason was 2003, when it finished state runner-up to Versailles in Div. IV.
(VA-SJ won the Div. II state championship in 1989, which was the first year Western Reserve qualified for the playoffs.)
But the Vikings’ current roster has no playoff experience; by contrast this is the Blue Devils’ fourth straight year in the postseason.
“I sense that we’re pretty excited,” said Hake. “You know, 10-0 is a big accomplishment, but that’s behind us now. We’re just concentrating in St. Joe right now and try to play our best.”
Poland is also back in the playoffs, for the fifth straight season under coach Mark Brungard.
The Bulldogs got in by virtue of winning seven games, none more important than Friday’s 21-7 game with rival Canfield.
The key for Poland, though, is to — like Western Reserve — put that win in the rearview mirror and focus on unbeaten Minerva, champion of the Northeastern Buckeye Conference.
“The satisfaction that I looked at in the locker room just now is worth it all to me,” said Brungard following Friday’s game. “Reaping the fruit of so much that the have put into this.
“Another part of the specialness of tonight is that we get a chance to play another week. We’ve really enjoyed this team. There are no egos on this team, they really play for one another. It’s gone so fast because of that so it’s a special season, special team and I’m thankful we get one more week at the minimum to do this.”
Poland quarterback Colin Reardon suffered a separated shoulder against East on Oct. 13, but returned against Canfield. He gets a chance to continue his season in the playoffs.
“This is what we’ve been working for, it’s exactly what we wanted,” Reardon said on Friday night. “Our goal at the beginning of the year for all the seniors is to win a state championship, it doesn’t matter who we play.”
Cardinal Mooney also qualified in Div. III, its’ area-best 25th season in the playoffs.
And Youngstown Christian qualified for the first time in school history and will have a home game in Div. VI.