SHADYSIDE - Mere seconds into Friday night's first-round playoff match between Western Reserve and Shadyside, it looked as if the Blue Devils had picked up right where they had left off in last year's contest.
Western Reserve jumped out to a 13-3 lead after one quarter, but survived a scare as the Tigers came clawing back with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to nearly erase a deficit that was as large as 16 points. The comeback, however, wasn't enough as Western Reserve handed Shadyside its first home playoff loss with a 19-18 win at Fleming field.
"That was awesome wasn't it?," Western Reserve head coach Andy Hake said after the game. "That's a great team. I don't ever want to have to come here and play again."
Tim Cooper took the opening kickoff 95 yards for a score to give the Blue Devils the early lead.
"If he ain't all-state, I don't know who is," Hake said. "He just rises up and makes plays when we need it the most."
The Blue Devil defense took the field and kept the momentum, sacking Shadyside quarterback Chase Kinemond for a nine-yard loss and using two penalties against the Tigers to force a three-and-out.
After trading possessions, Reserve mounted a scoring drive, using a combination of Dan Zilke and a big pass play from Nick Allison to Cooper for 38 yards. Zilke capped off the drive from one-yard-out to give the Blue Devils a 13-0 lead.
The Tigers got on the board with a 23-yard field goal from Cody Hudson just before the first quarter ended. Shadyside failed to find the end zone on a drive that saw them get inside the Reserve five-yard-line on a 41-yard catch and run by Austin Dorris.
The Blue Devils defense made two such goal line stands in the first half to keep Shadyside out of the end zone, forcing the Tigers to come away with just three points.
Western Reserve came right back with a touchdown to distance themselves from the Tigers to open the second quarter, but couldn't convert a two-point conversion attempt and the lead was at 18.
From there, both teams' offensive production ground to a halt with neither managing to muster much in the way of points.
At halftime, Western Reserve had held Shadyside to just 13 yards rushing on 13 carries.
The third quarter opened up with several three-and-outs from both teams, and scoring continued to stand still. As the fourth quarter unfolded, the momentum suddenly shifted in favor of Shadyside just 41 seconds in.
Chris Littell caught Kinemond's pass over the the middle of the field, and then reversed his direction to come back to the near sideline and raced 55 yards for the score.
Fleming field erupted and the play gave new life into the Tigers' chances.
Shadyside drew closer with another big play that went for a score. With six minutes left, Kinemond dropped back and found his sophomore wide receiver slipping behind the Blue Devil secondary, connecting for a 46-yard touchdown.
Western Reserve weathered the blow and put themselves in position to make it a two-score game again when Cooper broke free for a 58-yard run down to the one-yard line.
After a quarterback sneak on first down, and a second attempt at a sneak on second down resulted in an unusual "aiding the runner" penalty, the Blue Devils were faced with a third-and-seven from the seven.
A sweep resulted in a costly turnover, when Western Reserve fumbled the football and the Tigers were once again in business at their own eight with just under four minutes remaining.
Shadyside went on a drive converting on two third downs and one fourth down to find themselves deep in Blue Devil Territory with less than a minute to play. A holding penalty wiped out a completion that would have set the Tigers up with first-and-goal from the one.
"That was the longest four minutes for everybody," Hake said. "That was nail-biting. I would hate to be a fan on our side. It's even worse as a coach."
The Tigers weren't able to overcome the setback and again on fourth down, Kinemond's pass fell incomplete in the end zone to turn the ball over.
After three kneel-downs, and subsequent timeouts by Shadyside. Hake called on Cooper to burn time off the top before stepping out of the end zone for a safety.
The Blue Devils punted the ball on the free kick and gave the Tigers one last gasp with five seconds left.
Cooper, making his impact felt on defense this time, sealed the game with an interception on a Hail Mary as time expired, his eighth pick of the season and 21st of his career.
"Our kids are resilient, and their kids are resilient." Hake said. "We just made a couple more plays during the game. We had our chances to put them away and man, they just kept coming back. I'm really proud of our kids. Shadyside has one of the best Division VI programs in the state. It's a real feather in our cap and for our program. We started the year 0-2 and everyone counted us out. Our kids were relentless and I couldn't be prouder for them."
Western Reserve (9-2) advances to face top-ranked Mogadore (11-0) 7:30 p.m. Friday at a site to be determined.