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Eye on the prize: McDonald finally tops rival Mineral Ridge

October 5, 2013
By MATT WAGNER - Tribune Chronicle ( , Underthelights

MINERAL RIDGE - Going into Friday night, the McDonald Blue Devils were riding a three-game losing streak against heated rival Mineral Ridge, meaning the Class of 2014 hadn't been victorious over the Rams.

The Blue Devils ended that losing streak at Joe Lane Stadium and gave the seniors that elusive victory with an 18-14 win over the Rams in an Inter-Tri County League, Division II matchup.

"It feels great," senior running back Matt Morrell said. "We've been looking forward to this the whole year."

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Wanting not to be shut out by the Rams (4-2, 1-2 ITCL, Division II) over their entire high school careers, the McDonald seniors led the way for the Blue Devils (4-2, 2-1 ITCL, Division II) from start to finish.

It started when Morrell took a play to the edge for an 8-yard touchdown run and the team's first points at the 8:08 mark in the second quarter, and it ended when Josiah Lovejoy intercepted a Jonathan Baker pass in the end zone with a minute-and-a-half remaining to seal the win.

"Our senior class, they were focused," McDonald coach Dan Williams said. "They came in and they hadn't beat them in three years. Our seniors rose to the occasion and the whole team just piggybacked on our seniors and our leaders. It's a great win for us."

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Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
McDonald’s Matt Morrell (6) dives into the end zone for McDonald’s first touchdown of the night against Mineral Ridge. Trying to make the tackle is the Rams’ Tracy Cross (28).

The Blue Devils found most of their success giving it to their running backs along the edge, especially Morrell.

The 6-foot, 160-pound senior carved up the Mineral Ridge defense for 134 yards on 20 carries, with 12 of those rushes intending to go outside. When the Rams tried to shut down the outside lanes, Morrell started cutting up field to take advantage of the running lanes inside, going for rushes of 15, 13 and 21 yards.

"Matt's a heck of a runner for us," Williams said. " He's a senior - put it in his hands and let him make plays. We're proud of him holding the football down, especially late in the game. They came hard at us, they put pressure on us defensively, but once we got to the edge a few times, I think that lessened their pressure and enabled us to run the ball a little more."

While Mineral Ridge had some success running the ball, both of its touchdowns came through the air.

The McDonald secondary struggled covering a fly route from a tight end down the middle of the field, leaving them wide open for both Mineral Ridge touchdowns. At the 10:01 mark in the second quarter, the Rams struck the first time with this kind of play, as Baker found senior Brandon Perkins for a 28-yard pass. The Rams ran an almost identical play with 8:47 remaining in the third quarter, as Baker connected with senior Jake Fowler for 35 yards.

"They never covered it up," Mineral Ridge coach Doug Velasquez said. "They didn't do a good job preparing for that, and we took advantage of it."

Although this was a big loss, the Rams are still in the running for a playoff spot, something that Velasquez reminded his players after the game.

"There's a lot you can learn from a loss," Velasquez said. "We will learn from it. Our team will battle back, we will make a run at the playoffs."

As for the Blue Devils, Morrell said the team is hoping to use the win as a springboard in order to run the tables for the rest of the season, having squared off with their two biggest conference opponents in the past two weeks - Mineral Ridge and Western Reserve.

"It's a rivalry game," Morrell said. "It's big. It's going to give us motivation to win out."