RAVENNA - Youngstown Christian had used a stout defense and a powerful offense to advance to the playoffs for the second consecutive season. The Eagles' defense came up huge with last-drive defensive stops against previous postseason opponents John F. Kennedy and Malvern.
Friday night, Youngstown Christian ran into a foe that it wasn't able to contain, as Mogadore gained revenge for a first-round defeat in last season's playoffs with a 42-20 rout to win the Division VI, Region 21 title at Ravenna High School.
The main thorn in the Eagles' side was running back Gary Strain. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior made mincemeat of Youngstown Christian's defense, rushing for 296 yards on 37 carries and two touchdowns.
"We were trying anything just to stop him," Youngstown Christian coach Brian Marrow said. "We knew that coming in, even from last year. He's bigger and stronger, faster this year. Watching him on film, he's got the complete package."
He got the Wildcats off to a big start on Mogadore's first offensive play of the game, rushing 82 yards for a touchdown just 1:28 into the contest.
"It was awesome. I didn't really expect it," Strain said of the big run. "I just saw a hole and took off, and my line blocked perfect."
Mogadore coach Matt Adorni said that run was what set the tone for the game.
"I've told people all along he's a special player," Adorni said. "I think he's up there with the best we've ever had. Hitting that big run right off the bat, that was huge. I think we showed them we're pretty fast, too."
Youngstown Christian's offense wasn't up to the task in the first half, running 16 plays for only 34 yards and two first downs.
"I told the kids, 'We were on the bus for the whole first half,' " Marrow said. "We just didn't come out and play. I take my hat off to them. They were taking it to us."
The Mogadore defense was on point all night, as the Wildcats forced three turnovers.
"I was real proud of the way our defense played in the first half," Adorni said. "I didn't think they moved the ball at all."
After a second three-and-out series in three possessions, the Eagles pinned Mogadore at its own 17.
The Wildcats had little trouble, however, using 15 plays to go 83 yards for the score. Strain rushed for 66 yards on 10 carries before Bryce Huth went in from the 2 for a 14-0 lead with 7:54 remaining in the first half.
Youngstown Christian gave Mogadore a gift on the ensuing kickoff, as Darien Townsend fumbled, and Jeremy Hugg squeezed the ball on the Eagles' 30 for the turnover. Nine plays later, Strain scored from the 1 for a 21-0 advantage.
After a Youngstown Christian punt, Mogadore (13-0) took over at its 27 with 55.1 seconds left in the half. Not content to let the half end, Anthony Ricci passed for 38 yards to Austin Pierce and, three plays later, Ricci connected with Kasey Beard for a touchdown.
Youngstown Christian (9-3) looked like it would get on the board to begin the third quarter. Ryan Grier ran for 17 yards on the first play and, five plays later, Emmett Underwood passed to Townsend for 30 yards to the 1. It appeared Grier would score on the next play, but he fumbled and Hugg had his second fumble recovery of the game.
Starting the drive at its 1, Mogadore ended any hopes Youngstown Christian had as it drove 99 yards for another score. Strain was again the workhorse, carrying nine times for 90 yards on the series before Evan Uhalley scored from the 4 to give the Wildcats a 35-0 lead.
Youngstown Christian scored three times in the fourth quarter, as Paris Bennett and Robert Thompson returned fumbles by Mogadore's second-string backs for scores and Underwood passed to Townsend for 73 yards.
"We got a couple breaks, a couple fumbles that they had," Marrow said. "We actually scored on two defensive plays and one offensive."
The Eagles went further this season than any other in school history, and the senior class went 26-18 with two playoff appearances. Even though almost the entire core of the team (except Townsend) will be graduating, Marrow is confident he and the coaching staff can keep Youngstown Christian on the right path.
"No one expected us to be here this year," Marrow said. "We lost a lot of talent, our linebackers, our whole secondary, two key linemen. We have some younger guys, our freshmen and sophomore class, and a few juniors, they're excited.
"We're just going to keep our little tradition that we just started here. We're a young program but I think the future's bright."