By Pete Chiodo
What’s it going to take to pry the District 10 Class A trophy out of the hands of the Sharpsville Blue Devils?
The Lakeview football team is looking to find out as it takes on the two-time defending champions today in the title game, which kicks off at 7 p.m. at Wilmington High School.
Lakeview enters as the champion of Region 1, carrying a record of 11-1.
Sharpsville, on the other hand, is rather a surprise for the championship game. The Blue Devils (8-4) were decimated by graduation after last year’s title run. Then they were the final Class A team out of Region 1 to earn a playoff spot, finishing fifth behind Class AAA Conneaut.
Yet, the Blue Devils managed to fight its way into the championship game, first with a quarterfinal victory over Eisenhower (31-7), and a semifinal rout over Mercer County rival West Middlesex (40-3).
It seems it’s never wise to count out Sharpsville, a winner of eight district titles and one state title (1997).
Conversely, Lakeview is looking for its first D-10 championship in football. The Sailors’ only other appearance in a district title game dates back to 1986, when Lakeview lost to Reynolds 41-6 in the Division II championship game.
Despite the magnitude of the contest, Lakeview head coach Dan York, a master at playing it cool, said his team is looking at tonight’s game as, “really, another week.”
And why not? Lakeview’s season has been one big crescendo. The Sailors are hoping to keep it rolling.
Since a Week 4 loss to Mercer, Lakeview went on to win eight straight, including a 61-6 victory over Maplewood in the District 10 quarterfinals, then a redemptive 52-21 win over Mercer in the semis.
“Definitely, we corrected some things that we didn’t do very well in the first Mercer game,” York said about the Mercer rematch. “That was a good thing.”
Sharpsville will also a rematch for the Sailors. The two sides met in Week 8, and it was a good one. Lakeview won it 19-13. But a successful onside kick by Sharpsville with 2:30 to play gave the Blue Devils the ball and a chance to steal the game away.
Lakeview’s defense, however, got the stop and sealed up the victory.
The Sailors “D” was a highlight of that first game against Sharpsville, holding the Blue Devils to 203 yards of offense, grabbing two turnovers, blocking an extra point and posting numerous tackles for loss.
The defense, in fact, has been a highlight for Lakeview all season. The Sailors have surrendered just 93 points in 12 games, an average of 7.8 points per game. That was tops in Class A in District 10 this season.
Tonight, that defense will be facing a Sharpsville team that has had its share of issues at running back. The Blue Devils’ leading rusher during the regular season, Tyler Wansack, was hurt in the first Lakeview game and hasn’t played since. Then last week, running back Ben BuCher suffered a knee injury, ending his season.
Even so, Sharpsville can still move the ball. The Devils gained 273 yards of offense last week against West Middlesex. And backup fullback George Keck ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.
“They run their offense, their base stuff they’ve always done,” said York. “And they’ve gotten better the last half of the season running what they run.”
On the other hand, Lakeview’s running game has been as consistent — and as prodigious — as they come.
Sailors’ tailback Blake Reddick has been knocking off one district and school record after another this season while amassing 2,592 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns on just 210 carries (an average of 12.3 yards per attempt).
His success has opened things up for others to shine as well. Last week against Mercer, fullback Marquis Spence had his biggest game of the year, carrying the ball 16 times for 94 yards and scoring four touchdowns on the ground. And quarterback Zack Bigley, even though his scrambling ability has been slowed by an ankle injury, has turned into a passing threat, throwing a pair of touchdowns in each of the Sailors’ two postseason games.
Tonight, they’ll look to thrive against Sharpsville’s defense, which isn’t too shabby either. The Blue Devils finished with the second best scoring defense in D-10 Class A behind Lakeview, allowing an average of 9.3 points per game.
“They’ve been playing good defense all year,” said York. “But we’ve been playing good defense this year too.”