BERLIN CENTER - The Inter-Tri County League lower tier title will all come down to tonight's game.
Wellsville (8-1, 5-1 lower tier) will be looking for its first ever ITCL title since the league started in 2006. After clinching a home playoff game following last week's 31-21 win over McDonald, the Tigers have one remaining goal for the regular season.
"We haven't beaten Western Reserve before," Wellsville senior Jordan Allen said. "That was one of our big things this year. We want to beat them."
It won't be an easy task. Western Reserve (9-0, 6-0 lower tier) has already clinched a share of the lower tier with a 34-21 win over Mineral Ridge last week. The second-ranked Blue Devils have won all seven of the teams' previous matchups.
"It's another huge game," Wellsville coach Rich Wright said of the upcoming meeting. "It's a chance for us to go on the road and test ourselves again."
Western Reserve will be happy to provide that. The Blue Devils have no desire to share their second consecutive ITCL title, especially when the team will be celebrating their Senior Night.
"It means everything," Western Reserve coach Andy Hake said of the league title. "To win the league and to go undefeated, those are two big team goals."
Despite the ongoing distractions of Senior Night festivities and a league title hanging in the balance, Hake is maintaining a low-key approach to keep things settled.
"It is what it is," Hake said. "It's a championship game and we're excited about it. It's going to be a great game."
Western Reserve is preparing for Wellsville's diverse supply of running backs. Seniors Marcus Moxley and Brendon Carr and junior Zack Mellott had shredded opposing defenses all season. Add in mobile senior quarterback Jordan Sloan and the Tigers have a four-headed rushing monster.
"We have a lot of respect for those guys," Hake said. "Our team has to focus on wrapping, tackling and fundamental football. This is the toughest test all year for us. We know how good Wellsville is. They're darn good."
Wellsville will be readying itself for the arm of Nick Allison, one of the area's leading passers. The 6-foot-5 senior has completed 83 of 141 passes for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns while tossing just one interception. His primary target, Joe Falasca, has 30 receptions for 737 yards -an average of 24.6 yards a catch - and 12 touchdowns.
Lower tier teams don't usually rely on the pass as much as the Blue Devils do, Wright noted.
"Western Reserve does some things different," Wright said. "They do some things with the spread. We're just taking it like any other week. We're not doing anything different. We're just adjusting to who we're playing."
Playoff implications will be in the balance tonight as well. Western Reserve currently leads Division VII's Region 23 in the computer rankings, while Wellsville is ranked third. There is the possibility of the two teams facing each other for a regional title.
"It's fun to talk about," Hake said. "For it to be this late in the year and two teams that are ranked first and third playing each other, that's something. This is the first week of the playoffs for us."
Neither team is expecting anything less than a game worthy of deciding the lower tier champion.
"I'm expecting a dogfight," Wellsville tight end Seth Bradford said. "Both of us are really good teams. It's going to be a battle to the finish."
Wellsville and Wester Reserve will kickoff 7 p.m. today in Berlin Center.