BERLIN CENTER - Western Reserve capped off its Senior Night the best way possible - an undefeated season and an outright Inter-Tri County League lower tier title.
The second-ranked Blue Devils (10-0, 7-0 lower tier) exploded for 14 points in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter to break open a close game with Wellsville (8-2, 5-2 lower tier) and emerge with a 25-8 win on Friday. The win gives Reserve their third straight uncontested lower tier title.
After three quarters, Western Reserve led by just a field goal, 11-8. After a quick touchdown to open the fourth, a Wellsville three-and-out and a deep pass by Blue Devils quarterback Nick Allison, the game was quickly put out of reach.
"In the fourth quarter, our guys did what they do," Western Reserve coach Andy Hake said. "We kind of held back in the first half because we felt our line should be moving them up front. The game was in our hands, we just had to finish."
Allison started off with a relatively slow first half, completing just three of five passes for 17 yards. Just 10 seconds into the fourth quarter, Allison connected with Danny Rosati for a three-yard score. About a minute later, Joe Falasca caught a 42-yard dagger from Allison that sealed the win.
"It's always great when you can put the game out of reach like that," Allison said. "When they have to score more than twice, it puts a lot of pressure on them. It's a nice comfortable lead."
The pressure, it turns out, was too much for the Tigers to handle.
"We didn't handle our composure very well," Wellsville coach Rich Wright said. "We just didn't get it done as coaches and players."
That wasn't the case early on. Three plays in, Reserve recovered a Marcus Moxley fumble and converted into a one-yard rushing touchdown by Dan Zilke. On the next drive, Tigers running back Zack Mellott broke a 49-yard run to penetrate deep into Blue Devils territory. Several plays later, Mellott scored from eight yards out to even the score back up.
It was all the scoring Wellsville could muster. After big wins over Mineral Ridge and McDonald to set up the title match, the Tigers appeared drained on the offensive side of the ball.
"We weren't ready," Wright said of his team. "We had emotional wins last week and on our Senior Night. I think we did too much whining about officials and stuff like that."
Western Reserve didn't hesitate to take advantage.
"They played really tough," Hake said of the Tigers. "They played a championship game. They had us by the ropes for a while there, but we felt we could outlast them if we could play four quarters."
Zilke was a big part of that belief. The bruising senior back finished with 95 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, leading the Blue Devils' rushing attack.
"With the ITCL on the line, I wanted to have a big game." Zilke said. "When the coach calls on me, I just do what I do and run the ball. I have the best line in the league."
Western Reserve will now look toward the playoffs, where it is the top seed in Region 23. With the Blue Devils near the top of the polls all season long, no one is expecting anything less than a deep run.
"We're going to approach whoever we play like the Super Bowl," Hake said. "Our guys have been in this situation before."
"We need a great week of practice to start off with," Allison said. "No one wants to be done yet. We're going to prepare like it's the biggest week of the season."
Despite an emotionally draining loss, Wellsville remains in an enviable position. Postseason football is returning to Nicholson Stadium, where the Tigers are undefeated.
Still, the road to a regional title almost certainly passes through Western Reserve.
"We'll regroup," Wright said. "We'll do our darndest to get another shot at these guys. We've got a huge game next week for the community and this program. I let everybody down tonight, but we'll go back to work on Monday."
WELLSVILLE: 8-0-0- 0- 8
WESTERN RESERVE: 8-3-0-14-25
WR - Dan Zilke 1 run (Zilke run)
WE - Zack Mellott 8 run (Mellott run)
WR - Parker Clegg 31 field goal
WR - Danny Rosati 3 pass from Nick Allison (Clegg kick)
WR - Joe Falasca 42 pass from Allison (Clegg kick)
First downs 1116
Total Yards 173289
RUSHING-Wellsville, Zack Mellott 10-97, Brendon Carr 9-18, Jordan Sloan 7-10 ; Western Reserve, Evan Nesbitt 16-47, Dan Zilke 14-95, Nick Allison 6-17, Danny Rosati 4-16.
PASSING-Wellsville, Jordan Sloan 4-15-50-0-1 ; Western Reserve, Nick Allison 11-17-111-2-0.
RECEIVING-Wellsville, Brendon Carr 2-17, Zack Mellott 2-21, Marcus Moxley 1-10, Camden Douglas 1-2 ; Western Reserve, Joe Falasca 3-53, Danny Rosati 5-29, John Clegg 2-24.
INTERCEPTIONS- Western Reserve, Danny Rosati.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES-Western Reserve, Josh Vuletich.