NEW PHILADELPHIA - Too big, too strong and too physical.
That's proven to be the recipe for success against Shadyside in the OHSAA Division VI playoffs the last two seasons.
The Tigers' dreams of winning back-to-back regional titles and their fifth in school history were dashed Saturday evening at Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium in Tuscora Park by the state's top-ranked small-school, Berlin Center Western Reserve, which dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and handed the Tigers a decisive 49-7 setback before a large turnout.
Shadyside’s Brooks Ramsey returns a kick during Saturday’s Division VI Regional Final against Western Reserve.
''We played a really good football team, and they deserve all of the credit,'' Shadyside coach Mark Holenka said. ''I credit our kids, though, because I think our kids got the most out of their ability this season and we're fortunate to have most of them coming back next year.''
Western Reserve's stout defense limited Shadyside's first-string offense to 96 yards of total offense and five first downs and only 100 yards for the contest.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils showed the entire arsenal, scoring on the ground, on special teams, through the air and on a trick play.
''Our kids are resilient,'' Blue Devils coach Andy Hake said. ''Western Reserve football has come a long way. This kind of thing doesn't happen every year for our community.''
Shadyside seemed to have gained some momentum after it answered the first Western Reserve score with a nine-play drive, which featured a Dorris to Cody Hudson aerial hookup for 26 yards, setting up sophomore Jacob Spencer, the Tigers' short-yardage specialist, to plunge from a yard out. Hudson's PAT knotted the game.
However, from there, it was all Blue Devils.
Western Reserve marched 80 yards in 13 yards. Shadyside had forced a fourth down and Hake had elected to send out the field goal team.
Shadyside then proceeded to jump offsides, and Hake called back the field goal unit, picked up the first down and then Bolton went in from a yard out, making it 14-7.
''Jumping offsides on the fourth down was a huge play because it basically gave them a touchdown,'' Holenka said.
Shadyside quarterback Austin Dorris played fairly well considering he's just a freshman. He stepped in for Chase Kinemond, who was knocked out of last week's game and has since been diagnosed with a torn ACL. Dorris was picked off on the ensuing drive by quarterback Jeff Clegg. All told, Dorris finished 5 of 18 for 79 yards.
''We know Shadyside was banged up, and they got some more guys banged up as the game went along,'' Hake said. ''We wanted to play physical football because that's our mantra.''
The Tigers' defense, which hung in as best it could against the massive Blue Devils' offensive line, had forced a fourth down. However, Holenka elected to accept an offensive holding penalty and the Blue Devils made him pay.
''We accepted the penalty because we thought we could get a stop and we'd have better field position,'' Holenka said. ''We were hoping we were intelligent enough to make a good play, but we sucked up on the sweep and the quarterback made a good play. We broke coverage and they got another easy touchdown.''
Clegg found junior Tim Cooper all alone behind the Tigers' secondary on a beautiful out-and-up for a 63-yard pitch and catch. Parker Henry's PAT made it 21-7.
Another special teams' blunder did Shadyside in once again late in the half. Senior Tommy Marlowe busted through the Tigers' line basically untouched and blocked the punt. Bolton scooped it up and ran 16 yards for the score. Parker Clegg's PAT was again perfect and it was 28-7.
The first Western Reserve touchdown was also set up by a partially blocked punt.
''"There were times when we looked like the team that hadn't been to this level before,'' Holenka said. ''They took it to us, which was pretty evident. They weren't only physical, but they were quick enough to where we couldn't exploit where they might have been slower.''
In the second half, the Blue Devils scored three more times in the third quarter and emptied its bench in the fourth quarter. On the other side, the Tigers had no fewer than five first-string players leave the game early.
''We were pieced together too much,'' Holenka said. ''It got to the point where all of the injuries were just too much and they caught up to us. To (Western Reserve's) credit, they would have beaten us on a good night. I wish them the best.''
Clegg finished with 208 yards passing on just eight completions. He landed three touchdowns.
Shadyside finished with 100 yards of total offense. Hudson had a strong game, catching four balls for 67 yards. Ramsey was the Tigers' leading rusher with 17 yards on nine carries.