McDonald confident in battle vs. Mogadore

Walking around practice, McDonald football coach Dan Williams overheard one of his players talking about the Blue Devils’ history against Mogadore, their opponent in a Division VI, Region 21 semifinal.

“A kid mentioned today, ‘We’re 0-5 against Mogadore,’ “ Williams recalled from the conversation. “And I said, ‘Well, how many times have you lost to Mogadore?’ One of the kids says, ‘Well, we haven’t.’ I said, ‘Well, you’re 0-0 against Mogadore.’

“I understand they’re playing for our tradition, and the kids know that in our tradition, our storied past, we have not beat this team, but I sort of simplified it and said, ‘Guys, you’ve never lost to this team.’ So, I just took a different spin on it and said listen, we’re 0-0 against them, we’re going at them, and we’re going to be 1-0 come Friday.”

Don’t think fifth-seeded McDonald (11-0) isn’t confident as it prepares to face the top-seeded Wildcats (10-1), the three-time state champions who are in the regional semifinal for the 17th time in the last 19 seasons. The two meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Aurora High School.

They met the last time Blue Devils were in the playoffs as well, with Mogadore prevailing 33-6 in 2014. Williams and McDonald don’t care about that game.

The 2018 version of the Blue Devils is one of the best Williams has been around in his 19-year tenure, and he lets them know they’re capable of beating anyone.

“Things like that get them believing they can do it,” he said. “A lot of teams may be intimidated by Mogadore’s history and tradition and all that, but our group of kids here in McDonald definitely aren’t because we have a good storied tradition ourselves.”

They have more than that.

Senior running back Alex Cintron has pieced together one of the best careers in school history. His senior year has been his best yet, with 1,874 yards and 32 touchdowns on 173 carries. His speed, elusiveness and vision are assets even the Wildcats must respect.

His running mate, Josh Celli, has similar traits. The quarterback has 1,210 rushing yards and 20 TDs on 124 carries, and he’s completed 37-of-70 passes for 740 yards, eight TDs and three interceptions. His main target is 6-foot-1 Cameron Tucker, who has 18 receptions for 401 yards and six TDs.

While the numbers are impressive, their mindset it what Williams appreciates.

“One thing about this team, they believe they can win,” he said. “We preach that all the time, but one thing is to say it, the next thing is to do it and go out and perform that way. This team is just very confident and believes they can win. Right now they’re doing everything in their capability to do it.”

Overshadowed by Cintron, Celli and a dominant offensive line has been the play of the defense.

During their last four regular season contests, the Blue Devils didn’t allow more than six points in any game, and they’re coming off a huge 46-20 defeat of fourth-seeded Rootstown (Mogadore beat them, 28-18 in Week 10).

McDonald will be dealing with what Williams called “your typical Mogadore football team,” which really isn’t a good thing.

While the Blue Devils are confident, they also respect the Wildcats, who’s scheme relies on running the football. A three-back system led by seniors Gavin Christy (5-10, 190), Troy Ferguson (5-8, 155) and Logan Penix (5-8, 190) has amassed approximately 2,600 yards. Mogadore has also opened up the passing game, mainly through play-action (QB Luke Rosato was 8-of-10 for 101 yards and two TDs last week). They’ll make for a formidable challenge for a Blue Devil team that allowed just 40 yards rushing against Rootstown.

Mogadore isn’t Rootstown.

“It’s funny, you look at the Mogadore program, and it hasn’t changed much over the last 30 years,” said Williams, who played against the Wildcats when he was at McDonald in 1987. “They’re a power football running team. They want to run the football. … They’re the same thing we’ve been looking at over the last several decades, but I think it’s one of our best football teams that we’ve put out here that is going against them on Friday.”

It’s a familiar foe for McDonald, a team looking for an unfamiliar finish.