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Reserve gets past Danville

November 17, 2013
By DANA SULONEN - Tribune Chronicle Sports Editor (dsulonen@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

MASSILLON - The Western Reserve defense had its hands full with the Danville Blue Devils - more specifically 6-foot-3 sophomore quarterback Ridge Durbin and his slew of receivers. Six Danville players caught the ball on Saturday night at Massillon Jackson's Robert Fife Stadium.

However, when it counted the most, the Blue Devil defense from Berlin Center made the two biggest stops of the game - which is now allowing Western Reserve to play another week.

Western Reserve came back and held on to defeat Danville, 31-26, in a Division VII, Region 23 semifinal. The win gives Western Reserve a 12-0 record and a date with Norwalk St. Paul next Saturday at a site to be announced this afternoon.

Article Photos

Western Reserve’s Evan Nesbitt tries to elude the grasp of Danville’s Austin Morehouse, right, and Marshall Magers, left, during Saturday’s Division VII, Region 23 semifinal at Massillon Jackson’s Robert Fife Stadium. Special to Tribune Chronicle / Wayne Maris

"It's great, we needed to play four quarters and to find a way to win," Western Reserve coach Andy Hake said. "That's a good team. Their line played exceptionally well and their quarterback, he is a big dude. He's good, he's big and strong. I'm just happy we won."

In the game, Durbin burned Western Reserve for 310 yards in the air and three touchdowns. Many of those plays were carefully-placed calls that took advantage of the aggressive Western Reserve blitzing defense. The result was Danville being able to battle back in the third quarter and take a 20-17 lead going into the final frame.

With its back against the wall, and trailing for the first time in the second half in recent memory, the Blue Devils of Western Reserve had a decision to make - fight or go home.

They chose to fight.

"It was big for us to play as a team, and that's what we tried to do all season," Western Reserve's Nick Tobin said. "When they started to come back in the second half, it was hard, because we've never had a team to that to us before. But we stuck together and finished it out.

"All of our coaches were saying, 'Seniors, this could be your last time.' It was really heart touching."

Knowing what needed to be done, Western Reserve answered Danville's go-ahead touchdown with an 11-play drive, which included a lot of running and a beautiful 26-yard catch by Joe Falasca from Nick Allison. The drive ended with a 6-yard touchdown run by Dan Zilke to take back the lead at 24-20.

Then came the defense's time to shine. Two Danville drives later, and knowing time was running out, Tobin intercepted a Durbin pass, giving Western Reserve the ball back at the Danville 22. Zilke ran the next play in to the end zone for Western Reserve's final score of the night.

Danville (9-3) wasn't done, however, and took five plays to cut the lead to 31-26 on Durbin's second TD pass of the night. Western Reserve tried to eat up the clock, but couldn't get the first down, giving Danville one more chance with just less than 3 minutes left in the game.

Sack. Incomplete. Incomplete. Incomplete. Western Reserve moves on to its first regional final since the team went to state in 2011.

"The defense played big. We gave them some big plays, but we got some big plays," Zilke said. "It was a win-win. We ended up having more points."

Zilke and running back Evan Nesbitt had much better success running the ball in the second half. Zilke finished with 54 yards on 16 carries. Nesbitt was limited as well, gathering 61 yards on 17 carries.

While Western Reserve prides itself on the running game, Allison made huge plays throughout the contest, many times keeping drives alive. He finished with 11 completions on 19 attempts for 267 yards. Falasca had six catches for 169 yards - many times while being double covered. Dan Rosati had three grabs for 80 yards.

While the defense had its troubles with the Danville passing game, Western Reserve kept the Danville running game in check - limiting it to 38 yards on 22 attempts.

Hake knows there are things to clean up (five penalties for 65 yards being the biggest) before next week's matchup with St. Paul. But on Saturday, he and the Blue Devils were going to relish in the win - and for not giving up when their backs were against the wall.

"We'll talk about our screw ups some other time, but I'm just happy that when it counted the most, our kids got it done. That's what championship teams do. We're 12-0. My kids are awesome.