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Silence the doubters: Mineral Ridge, Western Reserve look to prove themselves in Week 6

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Mineral Ridge's Tyler Tamdurro (right) rushes into the end zone for a late 1st half TD as Newton Falls' Nick Rapczak follows the play

BERLIN CENTER — At the midpoint of the 2021 season, nothing is set in stone. Despite a lot of doubt plaguing the outside of the Mineral Ridge and Western Reserve football programs, none of it is affecting the kids.

In fact, the players of both teams are happy they’re being doubted.

While both teams enter their Friday night matchup at 2-3, they’ve taken two separate routes to reach that point.

Mineral Ridge enters the second half of the season on a two-game skid, dropping contests to rival McDonald (21-14) and state power Springfield (55-7) after starting the season 2-1.

Despite coming up short the last two weeks, Mineral Ridge is feeling good as it enters the back half of the schedule.

“We’re really good, we’re a spirited bunch,” Rams coach Brian Shaner said. “They love to play the game of football. They let us coach them up really hard. We felt like we’ve been in every game except the Springfield game. A couple plays, we could be sitting with a totally different record.

“We’ve got a lot of young and inexperienced guys that, halfway through this season now, shouldn’t be (inexperienced). We’re looking for a great second half of the season and it starts with Western Reserve.”

Shaner has often referred to Springfield, McDonald and Western Reserve as the league’s “Big Three” and mentioned how important wins over these teams are for the program on the rise. As Shaner attempts to build up his program, these are the kinds of games he wants his kids to keep a special focus on.

Shaner is excited any time his team can silence some doubts about the program.

“I told our kids that this is an opportunity for you guys to take on one of the big three in the league,” he said. “I like to coach in these kinds of games because I really feel a lot of teams doubt what we have here Ridge with this group that we have.

“We’re a little bit undersized or a little bit undermanned, but we play very hard. We play with reckless abandon which is my style of coaching. I can’t wait. I can’t wait to see our kids play Friday night. I think it’ll be great.”

Western Reserve however, enters tonight’s game on a two-game win streak, taking down Jackson-Milton (26-0) and Waterloo (34-8) to open the league slate of games.

Now that they’re getting into the groove, Blue Devils coach Jason Lude feels the offseason work is starting to pay off.

“We have a hungry, hungry team,” Lude said. “They work extremely hard. We had a critical offseason. We’ve had a full weightroom at 5:30 in the morning since January and that includes our freshmen class. They’ve put themselves in a position to play. They’re a hungry team. They know they’ve got a lot of doubters out there, but they support each other in everything that they do and I’m proud of them.”

A big part of that has been from special teams play. In Western Reserve’s win over Waterloo, the Blue Devil offense didn’t see the field until the second quarter after taking a kickoff and punt return back for scores.

Another aspect of Western Reserve’s success has been the dominance of running back David Altiere.

Shaner coached Altiere in his freshman season and is excited for his team to get a chance to go against him again.

“He’s a once in a lifetime kind of kid,” Shaner said. “He’s a special athlete. I had the privilege of coaching him his freshman year when I was out there. We knew he was going to be special. It’s nice to see him put in the work and get the accolades that he gets. I really take this challenge to heart to try and slow him down.

“It’s a great challenge. We’ve seen really good backs this year and of all the teams we’ve faced he’s definitely in the upper echelon. I can’t wait for our kids to get after him.”

Both teams have solid options at the quarterback position.

While Mineral Ridge has a more experienced quarterback in Mark Bunch, Blue Devils sophomore Luke Henning is beginning to come into his own as the team’s signal caller.

“I think he’s done great, he’s done exactly what we’ve asked him to do,” Lude said. “I don’t want to call him a game manager because I think that that can be seen as disrespectful, but he’s done exactly what we asked him to do. When we take some shots, he’s made them. … With the poise he has, it’s sometimes hard for me to remember that he’s only a sophomore. He’s so mature for his age. He’s a very physical runner, which has really shown up the last few weeks.”

Between the skilled rosters Western Reserve and Mineral Ridge possess, expect a heated battle for 48 minutes. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Western Reserve Stadium.

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