Western Reserve coach Andy Hake gathered his team together after holding off Danville to advance to the regional championship and yelled for their collective attention.
Then he asked them, “playing for four quarters is fun, isn’t it?”
Fun would be the best way of describing the Blue Devils’ 31-26 Division VII, Region 23 semifinal win over Danville at Jackson High Saturday night.
In a game that played out as anything but normal, it was Western Reserve’s running game and defense that produced the victory after the Blue Devils trailed 20-17 to begin the fourth quarter.
“We needed that — to play four quarters and find a way to win,” Hake said. “When it counted most, we got it done and that’s what our kids did.”
Dan Zilke had fourth-quarter touchdown runs of 6 and 22 yards to give Western Reserve (12-0) a 31-20 lead with less than six minutes left in the game.
Danville (9-3) sophomore quarterback Ridge Durbin, who was 21-of-35 for 310 yards and three touchdowns, drove his Blue Devils down the field for a quick score, an 11-yard strike to Kenton Mickley.
“I thought we wore them down, but [Zilke] stole their hearts there at the end,” Hake said. “He’s done that all year.”
Western Reserve senior linebacker Nick Tobin set up Zilke’s second touchdown run by intercepting Durbin on the Danville 22-yard line. It was Durbin’s only mistake of the night, but the Blue Devils capitalized scoring on the next play.
“I dropped back and looked and a guy was right there,” Tobin said of his interception. “I didn’t think he was going to throw it, but he did. I just made the play.”
Near the end of the first quarter, Nick Allison threw a pass into double coverage that was tipped in the air by Danville’s A.J. Winings-Hawk. However Danny Rosati was able to stay on his feet to haul the ball to run in for the game’s first score.
Danville got on the scoreboard thanks to a perfectly-timed play call on a Western Reserve blitz that left Austin Morehouse open on a quick slant that he took 63 yards for a touchdown.
Western Reserve ended the first-half scoring on a 63-yard touchdown on a crossing route by Joe Falasca, who outran the Danville secondary to the end zone. Then, after forcing a quick three-and-out, the Blue Devils were able to get in Parker Clegg’s range and he converted a 32-yard field goal.
The third quarter was all Danville, as Durbin finished off two separate scoring drives — one on the ground, the other through the air — to give them the lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“When they started coming back in the start of the second half it was hard, because we’ve never had a team do that to us before and they were doing it pretty well,” Tobin said. “But we stuck together and finished it off.”
Western Reserve will play Norwalk St. Paul (11-1) Saturday in the regional final at a site yet to be determined.