BERLIN CENTER - Heading into last week's game in Salineville, the Western Reserve Blue Devils had culminated an impressive 6-0 record. But inevitably with every perfect start comes the question of whether or not a team is for real.
After a 48-3 victory over the previously unbeaten Indians, no one's asking that anymore.
"Week by week we build up our opponents 10-feet tall and then cut them down to size," head coach Andy Hake said. "Our guys played well. Southern is a good team. We have a lot of respect for them. We just came out ready."
Unsung heroes — Western Reserve quarterback Jeff Clegg pitches out to Don Bolton (not shown) while offensive linemen Micah Marra (64), Sam Steininger (57), Matt Mace (68)?and Adam Badgett (55)?block during the team’s game against East Palestine earlier this season. The O-line has been instrumental in the team’s 448-yard offensive average during their 7-0 start. The Blue Devils don’t mince words when it comes to their biggest goal of the 2011 season — state.?(Salem News/B.J. Lisko)
Any question of whether or not the Blue Devils are looking ahead gets seems to be answered every Friday. The team's statistics read like their straight out of a video game set to easy mode. But there's nothing easy about what the Blue Devils have done.
Senior Don Bolton has run for 1,461 yards on just 119 attempts averaging 12.3 yards a carry with 16 touchdowns.
Senior Jeff Clegg hasn't had to throw as much as he has in previous seasons, but when he does it's been very effective. He's 60-of-108 for 897 yards with 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
The team's offensive line has been outstanding, and the team's defense has been nothing short of tenacious holding opponents to 13.5 points and just over 160 yards of total offense per contest.
"It's been a culmination of things," Hake said of the team's success. "You have to have players, and we have them, but it's much deeper than that. They've been a part of a winning program. They've been in big games. Our program is at another level. We're no longer asking ourselves if we can play with Norwalk, Mogodore or McDonald. We're saying we should play, compete with, and beat them."
If Hake sounds cocky he has every right to be.
His team averages 41 points per game and 448 yards of total offense. The closest a team has come to beating them was in week two at Independence where the Blue Devils still won 26-14. The team's statistics would even be bigger if not for a weather-shortened game against East Palestine where they called it at half-time with Reserve securing a 28-6 win.
Besides making a deep playoff run, about the only thing left for Hake's team to really prove is that it can beat McDonald. The Blue Devils have lost to their rivals 23 straight times in 21 years, including twice last season, the latter defeat ending the team's season in the playoffs.
Hake and his team talk about almost everything. Sure, they take it one game at a time like everyone else, but they're dreamers just the same.
"Tradition has to start somewhere," he said. "It's like a badge. These kids wear it, and they've been proud of it. We want to play in Massillon. We can do it. We've just got to stay they course. A lot of people say we're dreaming, but if you're not going to talk about those big goals, what's the point in having them?"
The one thing that isn't a part of much chatter amongst the Blue Devils' locker room is the McDonald streak.
"We're past that," Hake said. "I know we haven't played them yet, and of course we're going to go after them. But I think that's shallow talk to say you're going to try to unload on one team when your goal is to get to the state championship. We've talked about taking our program to another level, and we've done that. We don't take anyone lightly. These games are too precious. You only get 10 of them guaranteed."
Standing in Reserve's path to a perfect 10-0 record are Wellsville (3-4), Jackson Milton (3-4) and of course, McDonald (3-4).
While Western Reserve is ranked No. 1 in Division VI, Region 21, they're ready to continue the success that's made them 7-0.
"We dream it," Hake said. "We believe we can do it. Some of these other schools, Warren JFK, Mogodore, Shadyside, have been there. They don't need to talk about making it to state because they believe they should be there. Until you get that far, you have that questioning of whether or not you can do it. The guys on this team have had a lot of wins. They've been great. You've got to give them credit. You could have (George S.) Patton or (Ulysses S.) Grant coaching, if the kids don't buy into what you're doing, it doesn't matter who the coach is. But they have and the community has. It's time for us to get it done."
Western Reserve will continue its quest Friday hosting Wellsville.
E-mail B.J. Lisko at firstname.lastname@example.org