SLIPPERY ROCK - It's never easy when the season ends.
Oil City came out strong, living up to its hype in the first half of a 41-21 District 10 Class AAA playoff win over Warren Friday at Slippery Rock University.
Oil City's explosive offense started off with a 43-yard pass from the D-10's all-time leading passer Mark Kulinski to Division 1 prospect Dallas Williams and the Oilers were off.
After one quarter, which included a fumbled kickoff return by the Dragons, Oil City (9-2) led 19-0 on two Mark Hutchinson touchdown runs and a Kulinski to Williams TD pass.
Oil City, which finished behind state-ranked Grove City in Region 5, led 31-0 late in the second quarter after two more TD runs.
Warren didn't go down without a fight.
Times Observer photo by Mitch Wilston
Train’s coming through
Warren’s T.J. Latimer bears down on an Oil City opponent during Friday’s District 10 Class AAA quarterfinal playoff football game at Slippery Rock University. Latimer and the Dragons saw their season come to a close with a 41-21 loss at the hands of the Oilers.
The Dragons had an outstanding scoring drive to end the first half, with senior quarterback Matt Stapleford spreading the ball around to four different receivers. He took the Dragons into Oil City territory for the first time in the game at 1:05 left in the first half. Stapleford hit 6-4 sophomore Mark Davis with a 22-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds left for a 31-7 Oil City halftime lead.
It wasn't over. At least the Dragons didn't think so.
Oil City's kicker missed three extra points in the first half, but converted a 26-yard field goal off a Dragon turnover. On the ensuing kickoff, Warren senior T.J. Latimer slowly followed his blockers up the middle before bursting for an 88-yard kick return for a touchdown.
Warren-Oil City Stats
O - Mark Hutchinson 10 run, Luke Klena kick failed, 9:23
O - Mark Kulinski to Dallas Williams 11 pass, pass failed, 4:56
O - Hutchinson 1 run, Klena kick, 3:41
O - Sam Heasley 1 run, Klena kick failed, 9:39
O - Hutchinson 4 run, kick failed, 2:05
W - Matt Stapleford to Mark Davis 22 pass, Stapleford kick, 0:22
O- Klena 26 field goal, 8:09
W - T.J. Latimer 88 kick return, Stapleford kick, 7:53
O - Joe Dean 12 run, Klena kick, 10:10
W - Matt Stapleford to T.J. Latimer 56 shovel pass, Stapleford kick, 2:06
RUSHING-W- T.J. Latimer 7 for 14, Matt Stapleford 4 for 1, Andrew Morrison 1 for 1, Rex Graham 1 for 1, Nathan Zigler 1 for 0; O - Mark Hutchinson 18 for 89, 3 TD, Heasley 3 for 4, TD, Brett Heber 12 for 73, Mark Kulinski 1 for 4, Joe Dean 8 for 55, TD, Jon Klena 4 for 9
PASSING-W - Matt Stapleford 14 of 28 for 175, 2 TD, Austin Jerman 0 of 1 for 0; O - Mark Kulinski 13 of 24 for 202, TD, 2 INT, Mitchell Eberle 0 of 1 for 0
RECEIVING-W - T.J. Latimer 4 for 81, TD, Nathan Zigler 4 for 49, Andrew Morrison 5 for 23, Mark Davis 1 for 22, TD; O - Dallas Williams 6 for 103, TD, Ben Koyack 4 for 65, Tyler Lockhardt 1 for 43, Logan Lantz 1 for 11, Mark Hutchinson 1 for 2
Warren's Andrew Bevevino recovered the onside kick and the Dragons were in business, down 34-14. Warren went for it on fourth down and 22 yards to go, but missed when Stapleford's pass went just 16 yards to senior Andrew Morrison.
Stapleford got it back when he intercepted Kulinski; Kulinski's first interception of the game went to Jake McTavish to end the first half. Coming into the game, Kulinski had 33 touchdown passes in 10 games to only five interceptions. He now has 59 touchdowns and counting for a D-10 record.
Oil City calmed down later on, and Joe Dean plowed in from 12 yards out to seemingly put the Oilers into the second round.
But, later in the fourth quarter, Stapleford shoveled a pass to Latimer, who ended his high school career with a 56-yard catch and run for a touchdown.
What fittingly ended his high school career was a long embrace with his father, assistant coach Greg Latimer, in the end zone after the game.
Coaches embraced players after a 7-4 season that started 6-0 for the first time since 2002.
This group had not been to the playoffs before.
"I told them I'm proud for this being three years in the making," said Warren coach Brad Wright, whose Dragons fought the whole game and outscored Oil City 21-10 after going down 31-0.
"The amount of growth we've experienced in three years, from 2-8 to region contenders."
Despite Oil City outgaining Warren 458 to 192 in total yards, Wright called the Dragons' effort "feisty" against such a talented team.
He said before the game Warren had to stop the big plays and the Dragons did later, but Oil City got off to such a big start.
The Dragons were missing three starters on the line, but Wright said he saw "good things" from both the upperclassmen and underclassmen that Warren's program can build on.
"We expect to be back here next year," said Wright.