RAVENNA: Mogadore found its offensive rhythm and, with a big second half, overtook Berlin Center Western Reserve 28-7 in a Division VI regional semifinal Friday night at Gilcrest Field.
Western Reserve did a nice job of containing Mogadore’s talented senior running back Gary Strain in the first half (47 yards), but Strain eventually broke out, ran for three touchdowns in the second half and finished with 215 yards on 20 carries.
When Mogadore entered halftime tied at 7-7, coach Matt Adorni thought that he had put his players in the wrong positions and “fired himself” in a coaching soul-searching moment.
“I fired myself because I didn’t call a very good first half, and it wasn’t on the kids,” he said. “I got us into some situations we shouldn’t have been in. Give the kids credit, they bounced back.”
The Wildcats scored their first touchdown with a beautiful 31-yard deep pass from junior quarterback Anthony Ricci (5-of-10, 75 yards) to junior Kasey Beard, but that’s not Mogadore’s game. Adorni decided to get back to basics and hand Strain the ball.
“We decided, win or lose, we’re gonna come out and run right at them,” he said.
Strain responded and delivered the biggest blow of the game on Mogadore’s first play from scrimmage after halftime. He took a carry up the middle, hurdled a defender, broke the run outside to his right and left everyone else behind him for a 75-yard touchdown to give the Wildcats a 14-7 lead.
“That completely took the wind out of them,” senior offensive lineman Joe Callihan said. “They were moving the ball before the half and controlling the game and he came out with that amazing run and that really changed the momentum of the game. … He’s the best back in the state.”
From there, Strain’s 168 yards in the second half were coupled with sophomore Brandon Berry’s 74 yards to control the clock while the Wildcats defense intercepted four Western Reserve passes (senior defensive back Hunter Van Camp had two of them) and recovered a fumble.
“I felt with the amount of guys we had going our way, that we just have to keep battling and stay patient and hopefully we’ll find something,” Adorni said. “And we did.”
Western Reserve senior Tim Cooper gave the Wildcats all they could handle. Cooper ran for 115 yards on 19 carries and caught seven balls for 76 yards.
“That No. 3 [Cooper], I’d like to have him,” Adorni said. “That kid can do a little bit of everything. He’s tough as nails.”
Cooper racked up yards in big chunks, but the Blue Devils’ five turnovers disallowed any offensive rhythm to be found later in the game. Aside from Van Camp’s two interceptions, senior defensive back Austin Pierce and senior linebacker Evan Uhalley each intercepted passes deep inside Wildcats territory. Senior defensive lineman Scot Hower recovered a fumble in the third quarter and would have returned it for a touchdown had his helmet not been ripped off and the play called dead.
Instead, Strain and Berry rattled off runs of 9, 13, 6, and 6 yards and then finally a 10-yard Strain touchdown to go ahead 20-7. Strain’s third touchdown came from 22 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats might have been delivered a blow to their state playoff run. Senior running back and linebacker Jake Cramer, one of the biggest pieces for Mogadore, took a hit under a pile and was down for several minutes. Adorni said that it’s “most likely a head injury,” and that Cramer’s status for the game next Friday night is unknown.
Mogadore will play Youngstown Christian, which beat Malvern 25-20, at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the regional final. The site has yet to be determined.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.