LOUISVILLE - Western Reserve didn't seem to have too much trouble with the Malvern Hornets. Their biggest opponent Saturday night was themselves.
Western Reserve was penalized numerous times, but Malvern had no answer for the Blue Devils power running attack in the second half, as senior Donnie Bolton found the end zone three times and tallied 235 yards rushing to rally his team to a 29-20 win.
"It was tremendous," head coach Andy Hake said. "Our kids played their butts off and just refused to lose. They are so resilient, and they figured out a way to win with intensity and enthusiasm."
The Blue Devils were dismal in the first half committing penalty after penalty, many of which were encroachment calls defensively and procedure calls offensively. One of the team's holding calls brought back the only momentum the team had in the first 24 minutes and cost the Devils a touchdown just before the break.
Malvern held a 14-0 lead at the intermission.
"At halftime Reverend Libb gave a stunning speech," Hake said of the team's inspirational leader. "He delivered us from evil."
Did he ever.
In the third quarter, after Western Reserve forced a Malvern punt, Donnie Bolton found the end zone from 14-yards out to cap an 11-play, 70-yard drive. The Blue Devils converted a fourth down on the drive, and a Bolton two-point conversion run made the score 14-8.
After another Malvern punt, the Blue Devils went 64 yards in five plays, including a 30-yard strike from Jeff Clegg to John Rosati that set up a 17-yard Bolton touchdown run. The extra point was missed following yet another procedure penalty that moved the try back five yards and the game was tied at 14.
But Tommy Marlowe forced a fumble on Malvern's ensuing possession and a few minutes later Clegg ran it in from six-yards out. Parker Clegg knocked the extra point through for a 21-14 lead. The Western Reserve defense would force four fumbles in the second half.
But just when you thought Malvern was down and out, they answered.
Shawn Ball capped a 10-play, 71 yard drive with a five-yard touchdown run, his second of the game. But the extra point was yanked left and Reserve held a 21-20 lead.
Having not stopped the Blue Devils rushing attack at all since the intermission, Malvern then tried an onside kick, but the Blue Devils recovered.
Again it was back to Bolton who ran for consecutive first downs, then found the end zone for the third time from 12-yards out. Western Reserve went for two again, and Bolton found pay-dirt on the two-point try to seal the game, 29-20.
"To come from behind like that, it's just a real momentum taker," Hake said of moving further into the playoffs. "It's what we needed. We needed that to go deeper into the black forest."
The Blue Devils will play Shadyside in the regional championship next week at a site to be determined. Shadyside defeated Youngstown Christian 27-24.
E-mail B.J. Lisko at firstname.lastname@example.org