Devils a passing fancy
McDonald’s air game vital in rout of Rootstown
KENT — Josh Celli took the ball under his arm and stepped a couple feet backward. Interesting for a McDonald quarterback, usually the Blue Devils run behind a powerful offensive line.
McDonald attempted one pass in a Week 9 game at Western Reserve. Wing-T. That’s what McDonald’s offense was predicated upon, not passing.
This time Celli found Cameron Tucker in the right flat in the first quarter and Tucker did the rest for a 15-yard score to get things going in a 46-20 rout of fourth-seeded Rootstown Friday in a Division VI, Region 21 first-round game at Dix Stadium on the campus of Kent State University.
The Blue Devils play top-seeded Mogadore (10-1) next week. The Wildcats defeated Columbia Station, 35-0, on Friday.
Fifth-seeded McDonald (11-0) trailed by one following Celli’s pass to Tucker. Celli went to the air again, finding Jack Bucan on a 31-yard scoring pass with 3:47 left in the first quarter.
Air McDonald? Sign of the Apocalypse? Did someone replace McDonald coach Dan Williams, a staunch advocate of the running game, on the sidelines? No on all points.
Rootstown (9-2) stacked seven, eight players in the box, trying to stop McDonald’s vaunted running game, daring the Blue Devils to throw. So, they did.
“What did we have, a couple touchdown passes in one game?” Williams said. “Surprising, huh?”
Williams said earlier in the week the Blue Devils worked on the passing game. Really, the Blue Devils do practice that facet of their offense, even though McDonald has been 32 of 61 for 637 yards. Those are not passing numbers to intimidate anyone.
“We figured it shocked them and it did just that,” Celli said.
Rootstown, a balanced run-pass team, went to the air against a McDonald team that has had its share of problems in the secondary, but it was a bend-but-don’t-break defense. Scott Steger was 20 of 47 for 352 yards and four interceptions. McDonald’s run defense held Rootstown to 17 carries for 40 yards.
“I just knew I had to do it, give my team more motivation, put the game away,” said Tucker, who had two interceptions.
As flashy and unexpected as McDonald’s passing game was — cue the Twilight Zone theme — it was the staple of Celli and Alex Cintron behind the Blue Devils’ stout offensive line that came through as usual. The two combined for 289 of the team’s 300 rushing yards with five touchdowns. Cintron had 22 carries for 158 yards, while Celli had 15 carries for 131.
Williams had both of the backs flanking him for a picture in front of the Dix Stadium scoreboard after the game.
“I can’t say enough about those two guys,” Williams said. “They grind things. They break tackles. They do things I haven’t seen other guys do.”
This game was originally scheduled for Rootstown High School, but the Ohio High School Athletic Association deemed the playing surface unplayable with many muddy spots on the Rovers’ field. That’s why the change was made to the field turf of Dix Stadium.
“This made it fair for both sides playing tonight,” Williams said. “They did their thing throwing the football. We used our agility and quickness to run the football. These kids want to play on an even playing surface. It was great the change was made.”
It was the footing Tucker needed as he had two catches for 33 yards to lead the Blue Devils.
“I feel playing here is better than playing on mud, slipping everywhere,” Tucker said. “Here a lot of players can use actual speed. I’m glad we’re here.”
For McDonald, flashy passing, speedy runs, it all derives from one place, or more correctly, a front six that has been the heart and soul of the Blue Devils all season — the offensive line.
“Oh my gosh, I love my line,” Celli said. “They block and we follow them. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them. Love them.”