Young McDonald team fought its way to playoffs

After starting 0-2 and losing three of its first five games, it looked like McDonald would be sitting on the outside of the playoff picture, but the Blue Devils had other ideas.

McDonald swept the month of October to get back above .500 and propel it up the regional rankings into the top eight to qualify for the postseason.

“We’re glad to be in,” Blue Devils coach Dan Williams said. “Whenever you’re playing in Week 11 it means good things for your team and good things for your program. We’re excited to be playing in November. The kids have been working hard to prepare for Lucas.”

McDonald has a hefty task in preparing for its 7 p.m. matchup with Lucas on Saturday. The Cubs (8-2) are the second seed in the region and picked up wins over Lancaster Fisher Catholic and Steubenville Central Catholic, with their two losses being by a combined eight points.

“They run the football, have a good running attack, a good running back and some good linemen,” Williams said. “They do things real well offensively in the run game and play solid defense as well. I think it’s going to be a challenge for us to execute our game plan on both sides of the ball and get a break here or there, but I think our kids are ready for the challenge.”

To stop Lucas, the Blue Devils have to be able to get through the offensive line and shut down their running backs. Forcing the Cubs to have long second and third downs could be the key for McDonald to get a strike.

“I think our kids are going to really get to the point of attack and sort of penetrate a little bit on their offensive line and force them to bounce off to the outside with their running backs,” Williams said. “We’re just going to have to create a negative play here or there.”

There was doubt along the way as to whether or not McDonald would see the postseason, but the Blue Devils defied the odds to survive into November.

“People didn’t think we’d be playing in Week 11, I’ll tell you that much,” Williams said after the regular season finale against Springfield. “With the start we had, I’m proud of our guys. I’m proud of our four seniors for getting us headed in the right direction and giving us a chance to play in Week 11.”

Coming into the season the Blue Devils weren’t expected to repeat the successes of last season’s undefeated squad. McDonald was only returning eight lettermen, only one of whom was a senior.

That senior was Cam Tucker. As a three-year letterman, Tucker brought a unique experience to a McDonald team that was greatly lacking experience. When times got tough, he was able to inspire the team to play better and played a role in the team’s growth as the season progressed.

“Cam’s been a big influence on our kids as far as leading the team and giving them the ins-and-outs of Friday night football, especially early on,” Williams said. “He kept being positive and told the kids that they could do it and play better. I think through his experiences he was able to get the kids to believe in themselves.”

The Blue Devils showed resilience by battling back from an 0-2 start, but it’s their challenging schedule that has the team best prepared for the tough road ahead, according to Williams.

“If you look back at our schedule we lost to three playoff-caliber teams in Division VI with Reserve, Springfield and Brookfield, with Columbiana just missing out on the playoffs,” Williams said. “We’ve seen some really good football and I think that’s going to help us. We’ll be able to fall back on that experience of playing really solid football teams in order to get us in the playoff game and get a win.”