By Tom Williams
In Andy Hake’s first three seasons as Western Reserve High’s head football coach, the Blue Devils went 9-0 against non-league opponents.
This season’s start was different for the defending Division VI, Region 21 champions. The Blue Devils opened with two losses — 31-21 against Cuyahoga Heights (10-1) and 20-3 against Malvern (10-1).
Senior lineman Micah Marra said his teammates took away much in those defeats.
“Losing those two games was probably the best thing, learning-wise,” said Marra who is the left guard on offense and right tackle on defense. “We knew we didn’t quit in either one — they just made us stronger.
“Our team came together a lot in those two games so that helped us a ton,” said Marra during Wednesday’s practice on Canfield High’s turf field.
The Blue Devils (9-2) won their next eight regular-season games, including a sweep of the Inter Tri-County League Tier Two. Only one game was close, a 22-20 victory over McDonald in Week 4.
Last Friday, the fifth-seeded Blue Devils opened the Region 21 playoffs against undefeated Shadyside. They escaped with a 19-18 victory over the Tigers that advanced them to tonight’s showdown against Mogadore (11-0) at Ravenna.
“They are a very tough team — physical, just like us,” senior wide receiver Tim Cooper said. “They have a lot of tradition. We’re going to keep it basic — it’s going to be a hard-hitting football game.”
Hake has faith his players have another big game in them.
“Our guys are going to have to rise to the occasion, but we can do it,” Hake said. “We’ve got the guys to do it, they believe they can do it.”
Surprisingly, Mogadore and Western Reserve have never played.
“They have a team of tradition [because] they’ve been there a lot,” Marra said. “Our team is starting a tradition — we’ve been in it the last couple of years.
“It’s expected of them to get in and people are [starting to] expect it out of us,” Marra said. “[But] they’re not superheroes — I don’t crown them or anything.”
After three straight seasons starting 3-0 against non-league opponents, Cooper admitted this year’s launch was unusual.
“It was really different, really odd,” Cooper said. “It was tough — 0-2, not too many teams make it back from that.
“And with a tough league like the ITCL, you never know what you’re going to face.”
Mogadore’s closest game came in Week 4 when they defeated West Salem Northwestern 26-20.
“They’re good — Mogadore could win the state championship,” Hake said. “I won’t say very easily because I don’t think anyone can win it very easily. “But they have the guys to win the state championship. And they’re used to being in [tight playoff games], too.
“Are they beatable? Yes, but this is probably one of their better teams. They have nine guys who go one way,” Hake said. “It’s really going to be a heckuva ballgame because I know my guys aren’t going to back down.”
Cooper enjoyed running in the crisp November air.
“It’s an amazing feeling just being out here,” Cooper said. “Not many people get a chance to do this.
“An even better feeling is practicing on Thanksgiving — that’s the best feeling in the world.”
The Blue Devils need two more wins for that to happen. Hake said anything is possible.
“I’m as proud of this team as of any I’ve coached out here,” Hake said.