NEW PHILADELPHIA - When undefeated Western Reserve and 9-3 Shadyside face off this Saturday in the OHSAA Region 21 Championship at New Philadelphia there will be one man in the stands who has a little more insight on the match-up than most. Wellsville coach Dave Skinner's team played both squads- the Tigers dropped a 49-7 final to the Blue Devils in Week 8 and lost a 46-6 decision to Shadyside in the first-round of the Division VI playoffs. And while the scores were nearly identical, the two regional finalists, says Skinner, are anything but.
"What Shadyside does, they do well," he said "And what Reserve does, they do well. They just do things different."
For the Blue Devils, it's smash-mouth football. The size of their offensive line has proven too much for any opponent to overcome. Twelve have tried and twelve have been turned away including Southern, McDonald, VillaAngelo-St. Joseph's and Malvern. Up front, the Blue Devils average 270 pounds. All-District picks Tyler Powell (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) and Aaron Halls (6-foot-3, 280 pounds) anchor the line that Skinner says is as agile as it is big.
"Reserve has probably the biggest line in Division VI and they can move," he said. "They're big and very athletic. You could say their offensive line is their strength, but they have a lot of strengths."
This season, the Blue Devils biggest strength has been their strength. Don't expect too much to change this week.
We're going to play physical," Western Reserve coach Andy Hake said. "We're going to try to be violent and physical and wear them down. We wore down Malvern, we wore down St. Joe's and we wore down 10 other guys. I think we'll wear Shadyside down too. My money is on my guys."
Shadyside doesn't have nearly the girth up front that Western Reserve has, but the Tigers get it done in the trenches.
"Shadyside is not as big," Skinner said. "There wasn't a kid over 225 that started on the line, but their line is fundamentally sound. They're like a train on the tracks. They know their assignment and they get to their assignment. And when they go with their two tight ends both of which are 6-foot-4, they're a handful. They might not be as big as Reserve, but they know what they're doing."
If the Tigers have an edge. it's playoff experience. Shadyside is making its 13th postseason appearance and second-straight trip to the regional finals. The Tigers have played in the regional final seven times, winning four of them. Last season, Shadyside made it all the way to the Division VI state championship game where the Tigers lost to Delphos St. John, 77-6. The Blue Devils have no regional crowns and are making their first regional final trip in school history.
"Shadyside has the playoff experience. I'll give them that," Skinner said. "They were the Division VI runners-up last season. I know they lost pretty big, but there is no shame in losing to a team like Delphos St. John. You don't make it that far on accident. If you make it to the state finals, you've done something right."
"They've been there, done that," he said of Shadyside. "They're the defending regional champions. They have talented players and an experienced staff. They're going to play us with everything they've got. They believe in their minds they're the favorite. I bet you in a lot of other minds they're the favorites too, but we're going to everything we can to change those minds."
Both regional finalists like to run the football, but it's the Blue Devils who have shown more balance. Western Reserve has rushed for 3,928 yards and passed for 1,709. Don Bolton has ran for over 2,000 yards and 27 scores this season. The senior running back's 235 yards against Malvern ups his season total to 2,376. Quarterback Jeff Clegg, the Northeast Inland Offensive Player of the Year, is 109-of-181 for 1,518 yards and 25 TDs. Senior receiver Tom Benyo has just under 600 yards and 23 scores.
"Western Reserve is the complete package," Skinner added. "They have a big, athletic offensive line. They have a really good quarterback, a great running back and a talented tight end. And Thomas Benyo is probably the best athlete in our league. They really are the total package."
Shadyside has been pretty much all run in 2011. Still, the Tigers' total yards are just 200 more than Bolton's. Shadyside has collected 2,574 total rushing yards with junior tailback Brooks Ramsey carrying much of the load. Ramsey has 1,149 yards and eight TDs. Quarterback Chase Kinemond has added 547 and 11 scores on the ground. Kinemond has thrown for just 772 this season. He is 38-of-93 for 12 more touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Whether Kinemond will be taking snaps on Saturday has not been determined. He left Shadyside's 27-24 win over Youngstown Christian last week with a knee injury. Freshman Austen Dorris stepped in and stepped up, rushing for three scores.
"They have a quick back," Hake said. "He (Ramsey) is a small guy, but he's very shifty. They love to run a lot of boots and counters and are just fundamentally sound. They're going to run the football and we have to stop them. We've just got to go out there and give them hell and play some football."
Defensively, the Tigers, who get to the football fast, are led by linebacker D.J. Shoemaker and defensive ends Mason Gulash and Matt Hammond.
Tommy Marlowe has emerged as the Blue Devils' top tackler on defense. He has 78. Bolton has nine sacks. Benyo also has nine sacks as well as two interceptions.
"I think Saturday is going to come down to what happens in the first half," Skinner said. "It's going to come down to the team that sets the tone early. Like I said, what Shadyside does, they do well. What Reserve does, they do well. It'll be a good battle."
When asked to a pick a winner, Skinner like Hake is putting his money on the Blue Devils.
"It should be a great game between two great public school programs, but I'll have to give the edge to Reserve," he said. "If Western Reserve comes out ready to play, they'll come out on top."