Blue Devils’ defense has game for the ages
In what Western Reserve coach Andy Hake called, “one of the greatest defensive performances we’ve ever had at our school,” the Blue Devils shut down Norwalk St. Paul in every phase of the game Saturday night to win the Division VII, Region 23 title, 22-2.
The Blue Devils (13-0) grounded the Flyers and limited them to to just 13 rushing yards on 26 attempts. They also held them to one pass completion for 12 yards.
St. Paul had just two first downs.
“That’s ridiculous,” said Western Reserve senior quarterback Nick Allison. “In a [regional] championship game, that’s unheard of. Our defense played great — we couldn’t have asked for them to play any better.”
What made the performance even more impressive was the fact that St. Paul (11-2) averaged 290 rushing yards entering Saturday night’s contest. The game was played in sub-25 degree weather and a significant wind blew across Ken Dukes Stadium at Medina High most of the night.
“They’re good and when you have younger kids out there it’s tough,” Hake said of the Flyers. “Things went our way and we feel very fortunate.”
Western Reserve rushed for 158 second-half yards for a total of 245 on the night. It also held a significant time of possession advantage of more than 23 minutes.
“I’ll say this, it was really tough for those who didn’t have conviction and resolve,” Hake said. “But [we] did it with the kids from our town.”
It was all Blue Devils in the first quarter, as they got on the scoreboard first with a 1-yard keeper by Allison. After a bad snap on the extra point, Danny Rosati was forced to scramble with the ball but found Nick Tobin in the end zone for a two-point conversion.
Then, midway through the second quarter, St. Paulpunter Scottie Slauterbeck — also the Flyers’ quarterback — pinned the Blue Devils inside their 1 with a 74-yard punt. That set up the Flyers’ only scoring play, as Jaret Nickoli tackled Rosati in the end zone for a safety.
Western Reserve came out in the second half and marched right down the field on its opening drive, culminating in a 1-yard touchdown run by Dan Zilke. Evan Nesbitt had a 41-yard run to set up the score.
“Our line is blocking fantastic,” Allison said. “I mean in the second half they really came out fired up and they were just making huge holes. We made some adjustments at halftime that really worked.”
Slauterbeck struggled going just 1 for 10 passing, but his receivers didn’t do him any favors by dropping a number of passes. The Blue Devils’ defense held the Flyers to three-and-outs on all but two possessions.
“When there’s conditions like this we get up for it, because we know it’s going to be a low-scoring game,” said Western Reserve linebacker Parker Clegg.
Clegg had a team-high eight tackles and two sacks, and was a constant presence in the Flyers’ backfield.
“We just embrace it, take it on and do what we do best,” Clegg said.
St. Paul’s offense was held under 40 points just three times this season. Saturday night it never sniffed the end zone and was completely shut down.
“That’s one of the greatest defensive performances we’ve ever had at our school,” said Hake, who has taken the Blue Devils to the playoffs the last six seasons. “Our kids just never cease to amaze us the way they play.
“It was like heroic play — it really was — I mean this is the regional championship game.”
Western Reserve advances to play Glouster Trimble in a state semifinal on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at a site to be determined.