DOVER — The Wadsworth defense heard enough about seventh-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley to last a lifetime coming into a Division II, Region 7 semifinal game with the Scotties.
It’s all the third-seeded Grizzlies needed, as they walked out of Crater Stadium 13-3 winners by one-upping the very defense everyone had talked about all week.
This was supposed to be the defense that ended the season for Wadsworth (12-0).
It was the 4-3 or 3-4 look, depending on the situation, that was supposed to send quarterback Trey Shaffer and Co. back on the bus with a loss.
While the Grizzlies scored their fewest points of the season, they advanced to a regional final game with Massillon (12-0) by giving the Scotties (10-2) a taste of their own medicine.
“It pushed us a lot,” defensive lineman Jake LoGuidice said. “We knew we had to hold them down on defense to do our part and give our offense opportunities to score when they were on the field. It definitely motivated us to go to the next level.
Whether it was Mason McMillen recovering a fumble on second-and-goal from the 5-yard line, LoGuidice picking up a sack or Jake Herbert and Alec Miller recording interceptions, the Grizzlies were every bit up to the task.
“I can’t say enough about our coaching staff, but more importantly our kids,” Wadsworth coach Justin Todd said. “They took some lumps last year and they took that very personal. I can’t be more proud of the way they responded.
“They took some lumps last week (in a 42-38 win over Wooster) and I know Coach (Jason Knapp) challenged them, but giving up the yardage and points we did last week, it didn’t feel good. Those guys take that to heart. They’re a very prideful unit. They understood this was going to be a game that we needed them to rise to the occasion, and what an unbelievable game by our players and coaches. I can’t be more proud of that side of the ball.”
That side of the ball limited the Scotties to almost nothing en route to Wadsworth’s fourth regional final appearance and first since 2011.
A unit that gave up a field goal after the Grizzlies turned the ball over on downs, Wadsworth’s defense stepped up and never gave in, no matter how hard Jordan Pantaleo (16 carries, 75 yards) and Blake Sands (15, 59) pushed.
While Tri-Valley was missing Aiden Fritter, who shares quarterback duties with Luke Fargus, there wasn’t much the Scotties could do. Wadsworth held Tri-Valley to 10 first downs and Fargus (4-for-17, 68 yards) went almost three quarters between completions.
The Scotties drove to the 27-yard line at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but came up empty. They then faced fourth-and-goal from the 5 before McMillen came up huge with a fumble recovery.
“Coach Todd said it was going to be a sledgehammer all week,” McMillen said. “We knew it was going to be a grinder game. We knew our defense had to come out and shut them out like we did. We just kept pounding on them and forced them to get tired.
“We’ve been down a lot, especially last week in the playoffs. Week 10, we were down (in a 35-13 win over Hudson), against Nordonia we were down (in a 35-25 win). We’re used to those situations. We just keep pounding and going at it. We don’t get scared when we go down, we battle.”
The battle continues next week at a site to be determined, but will bring a storied Massillon program, which beat Whitehall-Yearling 35-17 to stay undefeated.
“Each week, we come out to a slow start on both sides of the ball, but we get a hold of it and we dig in, especially when it’s an away field, and we make ourselves at home,” Wadsworth cornerback Brett Randolph said. “Usually after the first quarter, we take care of business. We had a couple of guys injured, but other guys stepped up and it came out in our favor.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.