ST. CLAIRSVILLE - In just five years Western Reserve has gone from a mediocre program to a state power.
The keys to the transformation are no secret. First is the arrival of Andy Hake who has posted a 50-9 record as coach at the school. Second is Hake's commitment to fielding a strong defensive unit every season.
Western Reserve has become known for a tough, physical stingy defense. Unfortunately for the Devils, they met a team which - at least Saturday night - had a defense which was a bit tougher, a bit more physical and a bit stingier.
Glouster Trimble jumped out to a 14-3 lead after a quarter, limited Reserve to 129 total yards and seven first downs, and held off the Devils 14-10 in a Division VII state semifinal in a battle of 13-0 teams. The Tomcats will meet Maria Stein Marion Local for the state title next Saturday.
"We've been relying on our defense all year," said Trimble coach Phil Faires. "We were getting penetration all night."
Said Hake: "They go really well to the ball. I think that's what it is. They have a lot of passion in going to the ball.
The Tomcat defense held Western Reserve to just 19 yards and two first downs in the opening half as they walked off the Red Devil Stadium turf with a 14-3 halftime lead. Nick Allison, who had thrown for 1,827 yards and 20 touchdowns on the year did not complete a pass in the first half and finished the game just 5 of 19 for 38 yards and three interceptions.
Hake said his team has made a habit of underperforming in the early parts of games.
"We do that in the first half and it bit us in the (behind) this time," Hake said. "We did not come out and play particularly well and then we got going like we always do. It was hard but our kids played very valiantly. I'm just very proud of our kids; they played very, very hard."
Despite very little success offensively, the Devils' defense kept them in the game until the very end. Reserve got within four points late in the third quarter after a questionable decision by Faires. Facing fourth and one from his team's 39, the coach decided to go for it. Jon Timko tackled Jacob Koons for no gain and the Devils took over. Evan Nesbitt then had runs of six and 33 yards, the later for a touchdown.
As the defenses dominated, Western Reserve had one last shot at victory. Getting the ball at his team's 23 with under two minutes and no timeouts remaining, Allison completed passes of nine and 16 yards to Danny Rosati. After an incompletion, Allison aired it out for Joe Falasca down the left sideline but it was intercepted at the 10 by junior cornerback Austin Downs.
Falasca came into the contest with 928 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Downs, in single coverage on him most of the night, limited him to one catch for 16 yards. Downs also intercepted Allison three times.
"We knew he was the playmaker and if we could shut him down we'd have a good chance," said Downs, who is Faires' nephew.
Downs did more than that, dominating the talented receiver. He was asked if there was ever a time during the game when he lost him.
"There was one time when ... I bit a little and he got me," Downs said. "But I was able to catch up and knock it down. That was the only time he got behind me at all."
Trimble took the opening kickoff and marched 60 yards on six plays before sophomore tailback Justice Jenkins scored on a 12-yard run to make it 7-0. Western Reserve took advantage of a fumbled punt (recovered by Tim Coler) to get possession at the Tomcat 30. The Devils got as far as the 3 before settling for a 25-yard field goal by Parker Clegg.
Trimble immediately answered, moving 61 yards on four plays before Jenkins scored from 16 yards out. Jenkins finished the contest with 89 yards on 15 carries while quarterback Konner Standley had 81 on 22 totes.
"They played well early on," Hake said. "I sure wish we could have that first half back but we can't do that. They've got great players on their team ... 20 (Jenkins) and 42 (fullback Jacob Koons) and their quarterback and 10 (Downs). Credit goes to them. They win tonight."
The Devils were making only their second trip ever to the state semifinal, the last one coming in 2011. Trimble will be making its first trip to the finals and will face the two-time defending champion.
Nesbitt led the Devils with 81 yards on 15 carries. Trimble finished with 219 total yards but just 68 in the second half.
W. RESERVE: 3-0-7-0-10
T - Justice Jenkins 12-run (Jon Stevens kick) 8:50
W - Parker Clegg 25 field goal 3:17
T - Jenkins 16-run (Stevens kick) 1:56
W - Evan Nesbitt 33-run (Clegg kick) 2:33
Trimble - Konner Standley 22-81, Justice Jenkins 15-89, Jacob Koons 7-33, Team 2-(-2).
Western Reserve - Evan Nesbitt 15-81, Danny Rosati 3-(-2), Nick Allison 4-(-9), Jon Timko 5-21.
Trimble - Standley 2-10-0, 18 yards.
Western Reserve - Allison 5-19-3, 38.
Trimble - Koons 1-7, Austin Downs 1-11.
Western Reserve - Nesbitt 1-(-4), Joe Falasca 1-16, Rosati 3-26