ORRVILLE — Don’t let the three losses on the record fool anyone. Black River’s defense knew it was in for a fight against two-time defending state runner-up Canton Central Catholic.
The final score Saturday, a 30-0 win for the Crusaders in a Division V, Region 17 semifinal, might seem like a bad night for the Pirates defense. It was anything but.
Black River hounded senior quarterback Jack Murphy all night, rolling up four sacks, three more tackles for loss and generally making the senior’s life miserable.
“The defensive line did a good job up front of putting pressure on the quarterback,” said Pirates end Jeff Owens, who had a season-high five tackles.
Black River only allowed 10 first-half points, including holding the Crusaders to a field goal on a 13-play, 40-yard drive where two potential touchdowns were called back on penalties, then started the second half with a pair of three-and-outs.
“We had a great game plan, and everyone played their hearts out,” said junior cornerback Garrett Hord, who had an interception, a pass breakup and five tackles. “We tried not to give up big plays to them.”
For the first half and into the third quarter, that’s what Black River did.
“We had to adjust to just how physical their defensive front was,” Murphy said.
Owens, nose tackle Cory Hammon (3 tackles) and end Nick Wagner (6 tackles, 3½ for loss, 1½ sacks) provided pressure on their own. But their work also freed blitzing pressure from linebackers, whether that came from Curtis Roupe and Jacob Campbell on the inside or Cory Hamilton and Matthew Potter on the outside.
“Our blitzes worked really well against them,” said Hamilton, a senior who had a team-high nine tackles, 3½ TFL and two sacks. “They were confused, so that was a team effort there, as far as our front seven.”
Even when Black River wasn’t stopping Central Catholic, the pressure was forcing Murphy to come up with something special. That started from the Crusaders’ first play, when Murphy was flushed and threw on the run for a 22-yard gain despite blanket coverage by strong safety Zack Beard.
“We knew they were going to be good, but it was a surprise how big and physical they were,” Murphy said. “I think our offensive line did a fantastic job. We started to pick up their blitz more. We started communicating better.”
The breakthrough finally came in the third quarter, when Murphy hit a quick swing pass to Jaret Cummins and Cummins split two defenders for a 69-yard TD.
“It was a huge, huge sigh of relief,” Murphy said. “We thought we were outplaying them, but we were waiting for a play like that to break through.”
After an interception on the Pirates’ next series, a 27-yard run by Murphy keyed a 45-yard drive that ended in a short TD run by Griffin Baumoel and sealed the outcome.
Murphy’s carry was notable — he had 20 yards rushing in the game, including that 27-yard run. The Crusaders had a 67-yard pass in the fourth quarter to go along with the 69-yarder but gained just 207 yards on the other 54 plays, a 3.8-yard average.
“At half, nobody had their heads down,” Hord said. “We knew we were in it.”
“I don’t think we ever quit,” Hamilton added.
Contact Chris Freeman at email@example.com.