By DARRIN LAUTENSCHLEGER
NEW PHILADELPHIA Even the most focused of football coaches has to enjoy a thrilling victory with his players every so often.
Especially a group that decided eight is enough — consecutive losses to its rival, that is.
New Philadelphia’s Matt Dennison told his team Saturday morning to go ahead and soak in the joy of Friday night’s incredible 34-28 triple-overtime win over Dover for the whole weekend before returning Monday with a sole focus on preparing for a regional quarterfinal playoff game.
“We normally have a rule that they have 24 hours to enjoy a win or get over a loss,” Dennison said after meeting with the Quakers. “But our message (Saturday) was to enjoy it this weekend and be ready to go Monday. We’ll give them 48 hours to enjoy themselves — they earned it.”
It certainly was a wild, pulsating battle in the 110th meeting between the teams at Crater Stadium, one that will go down as one of the best games ever between the Quakers and Tornadoes. It was not decided until the Quakers capitalized on turnovers by the Tornadoes at the end of the second overtime (a fumble recovered by New Philadelphia linebacker Blake Burgess) and on the first play of the third overtime (an interception by senior Jamal Johnson), leading to Johnson’s game-winning seven-yard touchdown run in the third extra session.
The game featuring big plays on both sides of the field still was a primary topic of conversation in both communities on Saturday, and on social media, where photos, videos and commentary were lighting up cyber space.
The victory, of course, clinched a spot in the Division III, Region 9 playoffs for the Quakers (9-1). However, it does not appear that it will be enough to nab a home game for New Philadelphia as it is expected to finish as the No. 5-rated team in the region and will travel to Dresden on Friday night at 7:30 to take on No. 4 Tri-Valley (8-2).
The loss, which ended Dover’s eight-game winning streak over the Quakers, did not entirely extinguish the postseason hopes of the Tornadoes, after all. Dover’s playoff life came down to Saturday afternoon’s game between Toledo schools Woodward and Waite, which was won by Waite 41-6. Dover (7-3) picked up enough rating points from the Waite victory — the Tornadoes defeated Waite earlier this season — to make the playoffs and is projected to finish seventh in Region 9, with a trip to No. 2 Columbus Marion-Franklin (9-1), also Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The top eight teams in each region qualify for the playoffs, with the top four schools earning home games in the first round. Final official playoff rankings and the regional quarterfinal pairings will be announced today by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, and unofficial ratings can be followed on the website www.joeeitel.com.
Dover and New Philadelphia each had opportunities to win Friday’s game before an estimated 8,000 fans in regulation and in the overtimes before the Quakers grabbed the victory in the third overtime. Both teams also performed at a high level all game on the big stage, with lots of individual highlights.
For the Quakers, Johnson carried the ball a whopping 44 times for 188 yards and touchdown runs of 7 yards each in the first and third overtimes. Quarterback Caleb Beans completed 17 of 25 passes for 219 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Tight end Boston Waltz caught TD passes of 27 and 17 yards, and tight end JoVohn Morrow caught a 5-yard touchdown pass.
Burgess (14 total tackles) and senior linebacker Nick Incarnato (17 tackles) each had 10 solo tackles, and Burgess had two big sacks. Senior defensive end Mark Barrow added a sack and an interception.
Dover’s Merrick Mamarella completed 32 of 49 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns — two to junior wideout Cory Contini (30 and 18 yards) and one to Evan Snyder (20 yards) on the first play of the first overtime period. Contini hauled in 16 passes for 168 yards.
The Tornadoes also got interceptions from junior linebacker Jordan Doughty and from Snyder, who grabbed a tipped ball in the end zone and brought it back 30 yards in the third quarter. Senior defensive back Johnny D’Egidio pounced on a Beans fumble late in the third quarter.
The Quakers will be attempting to win the school’s first-ever playoff game, and Dennison said his team, especially the seniors, have been waiting for this opportunity since hard-luck losses to Tallmadge and Aurora the past two years.
“I am not worried about a lack of focus at all in this week coming up,” Dennison said. “This group has been focused on getting to the playoffs and winning a playoff game since they established it as their top goal for this season.”