Amid the swirling wind and snow, it came down to the trenches.
No. 2-ranked Berlin Center Western Reserve was able to control the line of scrimmage from start to finish, and used a big second half to pull away from No. 7 St. Paul in a 22-2 victory at Ken Dukes Stadium in Medina.
The Flyers finish the season at 11-2 overall, and dropped to 7-3 all-time in regional championship games. The Blue Devils improved to 13-0 and advance to the state semifinals for the second time in three year, where they will face Glouster Trimble (13-0) in a unbeaten showdown.
In a game played in a swirling wind with a blanket of snow on the field in 12-degree wind chill temperatures, St. Paul was held to just 12 net yards on 36 plays. The Flyers had one first down in the third quarter on a 12-yard pass and one in the second quarter on a pass interference.
It is the first time the Flyers did not score a touchdown in the postseason since a 35-0 first-round loss vs. Mogadore in 1995 — 43 playoff games ago in the program's first-ever playoff appearance.
"They completely shut us down. We couldn't get anything going, and that's a complete credit to them," St. Paul coach John Livengood said. "They controlled the line of scrimmage. We couldn't pick up their blitzes in our run or pass schemes, and we dropped some passes. We just couldn't get anything going or put anything together offensively."
After a quick three-and-out, the Flyers were forced to punt into the stiff wind from their own end zone. That gave the Devils the ball at the St. Paul 40-yard line, and they proceeded to convert three third downs on an 11-play, 5-minute, 25-second scoring drive.
Quarterback Nick Allison went across from a yard out for the first score of the game, and on a botched PAT attempt, holder Danny Rosati was able to find 6-foot-4 Nick Tobin in the back of the end zone for the conversion and an 8-0 lead with 4:17 left in the first quarter.
Three St. Paul drives later, after another three-and-out, Scottie Slauterbeck was able to punt into the wind, and benefitted from a gracious bounce for a 75-yard punt that rolled inside the Western Reserve 1. With the defense able to bring steady pressure, Rosati was stood up on the goal line on second down, and just managed to avoid getting tackled for a safety.
But on the next play, Rosati wasn't as fortunate, as Jesse Gross and a host of defenders threw him for a loss in the end zone for a safety, trimming the margin to 8-2 with 5:44 left in the half.
With the free kick also going into the wind, the Flyers took possession at the WR 40, with all the momentum now on their side. But a run by Devin Smith and a scramble by Slauterbeck resulted in no yardage, and Slauterbeck fired an incomplete pass on third down, forcing the Flyers to again quickly punt from a missed opportunity.
The score remained 8-2 at half, and Livengood elected to take the wind to kickoff the second half. While they came up with several stops throughout the game, the biggest one the St. Paul defense needed was to open the second half.
Instead, Western put together a quick 7-play, 79-yard scoring drive that took less than three minutes. Evan Nesbitt had a 41-yard run on the drive, and Dan Zilke capped the drive with a 1-yard scoring run. Parker Clegg's PAT made it 15-2 with 9:06 left in the third quarter.
"We took the wind to start the third quarter hoping to pin them deep," Livengood said. "We were hoping to get a three-and-out and maybe put something together offensively and get our momentum going. But when they were able to take that drive down for a touchdown, that made it tough."
Of St. Paul's nine possessions, just three times were they on the field longer than three plays. The pass interference call extended a drive by one play in the second quarter, while Grant Dilger caught a 12-yard pass on a third-and-9 in the third quarter. Lastly, the Flyers went for it on a fourth down late in the game near midfield that came up empty.
With a fourth-and-1 at the St. Paul 18, the Devils capped the scoring with an 18-yard run by Jon Timko that saw him drag two defenders in the end zone with 4:13 left.
"Defensively, we stood strong as long as we could," Livengood said of his defense, which came up with seven stops on 10 possessions by the Devils. "But we were giving up a lot of size and our kids had a tough time holding the line of scrimmage, and they kind of just wore us down.
"All that credit goes to Berlin Center," he added. "They did a great job, and they were the better team tonight. Give credit where credit is due, and that's to Berlin Center. They outmanned us tonight and they did a great job and deserved the win."
For Western Reserve, Nesbitt ran for 102 yards on 12 attempts, while Timko added 86 yards on 10 attempts. The Devils totaled 265 yards rushing on the ground on 53 attempts. With the poor weather conditions, the teams combined to go just 4-of-17 passing for 52 yards.
After finishing ninth in their region in back-to-back years in 2010 and 2011 to just miss the playoffs, St. Paul lost in the first round to Tiffin Calvert last season and were one win shy of the state semifinals this season.
"The leadership and camaraderie with how our seniors approached things this year is really unprecedented," Livengood said. "I've coached a lot of teams, and they really did a great job and made it a lot of fun to coach. I speak for all our coaches when I say we really enjoyed coaching this group of kids.
"This group of seniors is special and did a great job of leading us," he added. "It's a tough way to end, but when you step back and look at the big picture, there is a lot to be proud of."