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Time for payback

November 20, 2013
By MATT WAGNER - Tribune Chronicle (mwagner@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

Although Danny Rosati and the rest of the Western Reserve Blue Devils weren't on the field when the last time Norwalk St. Paul and Western Reserve played each other on Nov. 7, 2009, they remember the result very well.

During the first year of coach Andy Hake's reign, the two programs met in the first round of the playoffs, with the Blue Devils making the 113-mile trek to Norwalk. Those who did witnessed a shellacking, as the Flyers ran away for a 46-0 win en route to the school's only state title.

Rosati's brother, John, was a junior on the 2009 Western Reserve team, and Danny said his brother has contacted him going into this Saturday's matchup with St. Paul in the Division VII, Region 23 final at Ken Dukes Stadium in Medina.

"I'm definitely getting back (for that loss)," Rosati said. "I've been getting texts all week saying of how we need to put it to them. They deserve a beating from us. We're still not over that loss from a couple of years ago."

While the Blue Devils (12-0) might hold feelings of vengeance, this Flyers (11-1) team isn't the same that marched to a Division VI title. St. Paul doesn't have 2009 state offensive player of the year, quarterback Eric Schwieterman, and are instead led by a trio of running backs who accrued more than 500 yards on the ground and more than 6.5 per carry in the regular season with Jesse Gross, Devin Smith and Brad Smith.

Senior wide receiver Jon Timko, whose elder brother also played for Western Reserve in 2009, said St. Paul has a similar playing style, though.

"I don't think it's the same team as the 2009 team, but you can still tell that they are coached the same," Timko said. "In 2009, they might have had some better athletes - I know they had a really good quarterback. I think they're similar to us, but they're a good team. They play really hard."

Western Reserve is a different team as well, more experienced. Since 2010, the program has won three consecutive Inter Tri-County League, Division II titles, qualified for the playoffs four times and won a regional title in 2011. The Blue Devils have been tested, Hake said.

"We've been in the playoffs," Hake said. "We've been in big games every year since then, so our program has grown a lot. We're a lot better, and this is a great matchup."

After playing against spread offenses the first two weeks of the playoffs, Western Reserve will get an opportunity to play against a team that likes to pound it on the ground, which suits the Blue Devils just fine.

The Flyers' rushing attack has accounted for just less than 75 percent of their offense, going for an average of 293.6 yards per game during the regular season. Western Reserve, meanwhile, allowed 100.4 rushing yards per game through 12 games.

"I think our defense has always done a good job of stopping the run, and the past few games, we've played spread-offense teams," Timko said. "I think we're actually excited to take on a team that runs a lot of two-back and three-back (sets). Our D-line and our five senior linebackers are going to do what we need to do to stop them."

The Flyers like to play physical, but the offense catches opponents offguard by rushing to the line of scrimmage and snapping the ball quickly. Senior middle linebacker and running back Dan Zilke said the team will need to prepare for this in practice.

"Every time they get to play, they run to the ball every time and get the play off within 5 seconds," Zilke said. "That's going to be kind of tough to keep up with the speed, but we'll get it. We'll have to be on our toes this week."

Still, to go along with dreams of winning a state title, the Blue Devils are relishing the idea of avenging a loss from before they entered high school.

"It's one step closer to the state championship, which is our goal," Timko said. "It would be important for us is because we're getting back at them for beating us in 2009, which we all want to do. That's a big deal for us."