BERLIN CENTER - Respect is something that is earned in high school football.
For some schools, it is naturally commanded from success in years past, and for others it is repeatedly earned year in and year out.
Western Reserve's string of recent success is something to be proud of, and now top-ranked and undefeated Mogadore awaits the Blue Devils on Friday night in the Div. VI, Region 21 semi-finals.
"We feel that we're earning our respect and different places like Mogadore, they've been good for so long they just get it," Western Reserve coach Andy Hake said. "We have to keep earning it. They have a right to have it, and when you do that for so long you have a right to have that respect."
The Wildcats boast a high-scoring offense that rolls up an average of 40 points a game. Mogadore has scored more than 30 points nine times this season, and piled up 60 or more on two occasions.
Last week against Steubenville Catholic Central, the Wildcats churned out 348 rushing yards en route to a 49-24 victory.
"You have to attack the box, and you've got to gang tackle," Hake said. "They have a running back and he's a real bad daddy, man. We've got to get on them early and we have to out-hit them. "
The "bad-daddy" would be Gary Strain, who rushed for three touchdowns against the Crusaders. He was joined by Brandon Berry, who also added three scores on the ground.
Eighth-seeded Central Catholic. hung tough with Mogadore throughout the first half, but a 28-point ourpouring in the third quarter saw the Wildcats pull away.
Stopping the run is key to avoiding such a surge, and conversely moving the ball on the ground is equally important.
"I think that's playoff football in Ohio - you've got to be able to stop the run and you've got to be able to run the football," Hake said. "I love going five-wide, but this time of the year the ball gets cold and hard. It's harder to throw now."
Western Reserve won't however be intimidated by unbeaten Mogadore. The Blue Devils are just a week removed from knocking off a perfect Shadyside squad on their home turf.
Reserve jumped out early and had to endure a late charge from a Shadyside team that had never lost a playoff game at Fleming Field.
"We moved the ball on them, but there was a period where they were really selling out to stop the run," Hake said. "But I'm not taking anything away from them. They were 10-0. Had they kicked our butts in the very beginning I don't think anyone would have said anything because they've done that all year."
The Blue Devils' Tim Cooper sealed the win with an interception on a last-second Hail Mary. Cooper came through for his team several times throughout the evening, adding a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 58-yard run to put the Blue Devils inside the five-yard-line.
On the year, Cooper has 890 yards rushing on 150 carries for 11 touchdowns. He's also dangerous as a wide-out where he's tallied 482 yards on 36 catches and three more scores.
"Timmy Cooper is an exceptional player," Hake said. "He's as good as a player that we've had at Western Reserve since I've been here. He just comes up big every time we need him. We have a lot of guys lie that."
Dan Zilke rounds on the Reserve rushing attack (827 yards, 125 carries, nine TDs), and Dan Rosati has been equally as effective catching the ball (378 yards, 29 receptions, 1 TD). Nick Allison has also been efficient under center as a junior going 113-of-210 for 1,574 yards and 16 TDs to contrast just seven interceptions.
Zilke is the team's leading tackler (81), Jon Timko leads in sacks (10), and Cooper also has eight interceptions.
The win last Friday night was sweetened by the fact that Hake was able to share the accomplishment with his father, who serves on his staff and does a lot of film analysis for the team.
"My father has been riding us for years now and is probably one of the better coaches I've been around," Hake said. "He's a real slick guy and it's really great to have him around and be a part of it. I'm blessed to have him around to coach with me and enjoy it. It's been a heck of a ride."
Hake and his staff attempt to instill a mindset that beating someone begins with a belief that one can simply achieve it.
"You can't worry about playing Mogadore, you can't worry about playing Shadyside," Hake said. "You're playing 11 guys. They're coached well, they're tough kids. We know all that. So let's go out there and beat them."
Western Reserve and Mogadore kick off at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Ravenna High School.