LOUISVILLE - Still undefeated and still in the hunt, the Western Reserve Blue Devils find themselves just one win away from the Division VI, Region 21 final and just three away from a state championship berth. To move on, the Blue Devils will have to move past the 10-1 Malvern Hornets in a regional semifinal at Louisville High School Saturday night.
"They (Malvern) are very athletic," Western Reserve coach Andy Hake said. "They have a great quarterback. They have tall receivers who are skillful and a very scrappy line. They like to run to the ball quickly on defense."
Malvern's senior quarterback Shawn Ball, a 2010 All-Ohio selection, has thrown for 2,278 yards and 24 touchdowns by completing 24 of 125 passes. On the ground, Ball has ran 203 times for 1,206 yards and 22 additional scores.
"Their QB is 86 percent of their offense," Hake added. "He's ran for over 1,000 and passed for over 2,000. From what I've seen, he is the majority of their offense. I'm not going to say he's their team because they have other players who are outstanding, but he definitely stirs the drink. There's no doubt about that."
As a team, the Hornets have thrown for 2,284 yards and rushed for 2,330. They have scored 419 points while giving up 157 and recording three shutouts.
One of those shutouts came over the Lowellville Rockets in Week 2. Lowellville is the only common opponent Western Reserve and the Hornets have played in 2011. Malvern defeated the Rockets, 46-0, while the Blue Devils won a near-identical 46-6 decision in Week 5.
The Hornets only loss this season came to the Ridgewood Generals (41-20), who finished Division V play at 8-3 last week. Malvern's other regular-season victories were against United (56-26), East Canton (53-19), Newcomerstown (42-7), Strasburg-Franklin (26-21), Tuscarawas Central (41-14), Conottton Valley (46-0) and Sandy Valley (40-0). The Hornets advanced to the Region 21 semifinals with a 23-7 win over previously undefeated Ledgemont (23-7).
"I don't like comparing scores because it's all in how the two teams match up," Hake said. "Comparing scores give you the illusion that this guy or that guy is good when it really comes down to the match-up. Don't get me wrong. Ridgewood is a quality team, but none of that matters. Nothing you have done up to now matters because at this point every team is good."
While the Hornets suffered one setback this season, the Blue Devils have put together a flawless record. The perfect run earned the Blue Devils the Division VI Associated Press Championship and a 33-6 decision over Villa Angela-St. Joseph last week kept OHSAA-title dreams alive. Aside from Lowellville and VASJ, Western Reserve has turned away Mathews (52-19), Independence (26-14), East Palestine (28-6), Leetonia (48-28), McKinley (39-16), Southern (48-3), Wellsville 49-7), Jackson-Milton (52-7) and old rival McDonald (35-0).
Western Reserve has outscored opponents 456 to 122, while rushing for 3,614 yards and passing for 1,650. It's been a senior effort. Don Bolton has ran for over 2,000 yards and 24 scores this season. The senior running back's 220 yards against VASJ gave him 2,141 on the year. Fellow upperclassman Thomas Marlowe has added 464 rushing yards and six scores. Senior quarterback Jeff Clegg is 104-of-168 for 1,459 yards and 25 TDs. Senior receiver Tom Benyo leads with 554 yards and 23 scores.
Though the Blue Devils can score fast and often, it's their brute strength that Hoke says will make the difference on Saturday. Playing tough and playing smart will be the keys.
" We have to out hit them," he said. "They have some great players but so did Villa Angela-St. Joseph. Last week, we out hit our opponent and we have to do the same thing this week. We have to play physical and violent, not screw up and not turn the ball over. Last week, our kids played above themselves, We played tremendous on defense, we played physical and we beat a parochial school. Our physicality and our relentlessness are our strengths. But like I said, at this point everybody is good you just have go out there and play ball. The best team in the state don't always win the state championship. Sometimes it's the team that makes the least amount of mistakes."
And sometimes it comes down to who wants it more.
"It's going to be one hard-hitting and very intense game on Saturday," Hoke said. "I think we have a lot of fight left in us. I think it's going to come down to the last possession and who gets overwhelmed whether by athleticism or power. If we get overwhelmed, it'll be by their athleticism. If we do the overwhelming, it'll be power. We just got go out there and fight for it."