BERLIN CENTER - After three consectutive victories, Leetonia's early season momentum hit a speed bump Friday at Western Reserve. The Blue Devils got 156 rushing yards from Tim Cooper and two touchdown passes from Quarterback Nick Allison en route to a 35-14 victory over the Bears.
Western Reserve (4-2, 2-0 ITCL Tier 2) has now reeled off four wins in a row after beginning the season 0-2.
"Nobody should count this team out," head coach Andy Hake said. "We lost a lot of skill off of last year's team, and faced a tough schedule early this season, but our players are starting to come together."
Leetonia (3-2, 1-1 ITCL Tier 2) got off to a fast start, getting a 43-yard run from fullback Zack Van Giesen on the game's first play from scrimmage to set up 1st-and-10 at the Western Reserve 25. Six rushing plays later, the Bears were in the end zone, with Van Giesen going 2-yards over the middle for the score to make it 7-0 Leetonia.
Western Reserve went three-and-out on their first drive, but Leetonia gave the ball right back after a high third down snap was recovered by the Blue Devils at the Leetonia 38. After four runs by Cooper netted 22 yards, fullback Dan Zilke finished things off with a five-yard touchdown run to even the score at seven apiece.
After pounding Leetonia with the running game, Western Reserve decided to go to the air on their next drive, and it didn't take long to connect. On 2nd-and-15 from his own 21, Allison play-faked to Cooper and lofted a pass over the top that Parker Warren hauled in at midfield and took the rest of the way for a touchdown. The 79-yard score, along with a two-point conversion run by Cooper made it 15-7. Leetonia drew to within one later in the quarter on a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trent Ferry to Brandon Dattilo with 5:18 to go in the half. The score was set up three plays earlier when the Bears recovered a Dan Zilke fumble at the Blue Devil nine. Neither team could mount any offense for the remainder of the quarter, and the score stayed 15-14 at halftime.
"I thought we started out well in the first half," said Leetonia coach Matt Altomare. "We came out running the ball hard, and our defense was able to make some plays for us. Unfortunately we were not able to sustain our execution in the 2nd half."
Halfway through the 3rd quarter - still leading by a point - Western Reserve blocked a Leetonia punt and took over at the Bears 31. The Blue Devils had been pounding away with Tim Cooper for the entire third quarter, but on 1st down from the 19, Allison play-faked and found on open John Timko for a 19-yard touchdown pass to make it 22-14.
"We were very flat in the first half, said Hake." I told the guys in the locker room that they weren't playing like themselves. We came out and were a completely different team in the 2nd half."
On Leetonia's ensuing drive, they were dealt a crippling blow when Zack Van Giesen went down with a leg injury and did not return.
"Losing Zach was huge for us," Altomare said. "In addition to what he gives us in the running game, he also does a great job along the defensive line plugging holes."
Western Reserve ran right at the Leetonia defensive line on their next drive, with Cooper going 52 yards up the middle to put the Blue Devils up by two scores with 10 minutes left. "The offensive line did a great job at opening up holes in the 2nd half," Cooper said. "We could tell [Leetonia] was wearing down a little bit up front so we decided to keep going at them."
After a Leetonia three-and-out Western Reserve took over with 7:30 to play and proceeded to ice the game with a 7-play 76-yard drive, with all of the yardage coming on the ground.
"Their line is huge," Altomare said. "We have a lot of guys playing both ways, which took its toll in the second half. We have to look at tonight as a learning experience, and keep trying to get better one week at a time."
"I'm proud of the way our guys played tonight," Hake said. "But we have to find more consistancy going forward. The ITCL lower-tier should be a good race this year, and we aren't going to overlook anybody on the schedule."
Leetonia hosts McDonald next week, while Western Reserve travels to Lowellville.