By Tom Williams
For two quarters, the Western Reserve High football defenders contained Gary Strain, limiting the Mogadore running back to 46 yards on seven carries.
Everything changed on Strain’s first touch of the second half. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior took a handoff from quarterback Anthony Ricci, tried the left side then bounced back to the center where he escaped for a 74-yard touchdown that snapped a tie score.
Forced into a desperation chase, the Blue Devils turned the ball over four times in the second half of Friday’s 28-7 loss in a Division VI, Region 21 semifinal at Ravenna’s Gilchrist Stadium.
“They’re great, they’ve got a good back,” Western Reserve coach Andy Hake said. “We ran out of bullets, they wore us out.
“But I couldn’t be any prouder of my kids.”
Top-seeded Mogadore (12-0) advances to play Youngstown Christian (9-2) in next week’s regional final. The fifth-seeded Blue Devils, who swept their Inter Tri-County League Tier Two competition, finished 9-3.
Strain finished with 216 yards on 19 carries. He also scored touchdowns on runs of 11 and 22 yards.
“We had a chance in the first half, but they just tired us out,” junior linebacker Parker Clegg said. “They gave us a great game — they just out-powered us in the second half.”
The Blue Devils fell behind early when the Wildcats capitalized on their first possession, driving 67 yards on eight plays. The big one came on fourth-and-13, with Ricci hitting Kasey Beard for a 30-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
Then the Wildcats struggled to move the ball the rest of the half.
“We kept the ball away from them,” Hake said. “In the second half, they kept the ball away from us.”
Late in the second quarter, the Blue Devils tied the game with a 70-yard drive, gobbling more than six minutes with a 12-play march. Tim Cooper scored on a 1-yard run on second-and-goal.
“Our line really controlled them,” said Cooper, who rushed 19 times for 119 yards and caught nine passes for 86 yards. “We have a great line and felt that we could run the ball.
“It was a great feeling hanging with those guys,” said Cooper of going to the lockerroom tied 7-7. “But we felt like we had to do more to stay in the game in the second half.”
Once the Blue Devils trailed 14-7, they had to rely on their passing game. Junior quarterback Nick Allison completed 20 of 35 passes for 178 yards. Eleven completions came in the fourth quarter.
But under pressure from the Wildcats’ pass rush, Allison was intercepted once in the third quarter and twice in the fourth. Hunter Van Camp returned one 53 yards to set up a 30-yard drive capped by Strain’s 11-yard run.
The Wildcats’ other score in the second half came after Wildcats lineman Scott Hower recovered a fumble at the Mogadore 35.
“He just cut back, you know?” Cooper said of Strain. “We didn’t have guys on the cutback a lot of the time — that really killed us.”