ERIE - Like any good playoff football game, it was chippy and it was physical.
Unfortunately for the Warren Dragons, it was also one-sided.
The Cathedral Prep Ramblers - PIAA's top-ranked Class AAA team - showed why it's a favorite to win the PIAA title with a 54-12 victory over the Dragons on Friday in the District 10 Class AAA Semifinals at Erie Veterans Stadium.
Times Observer photo by Ben Oviatt
Piling it on
Warren's Luke Wortman is stopped by a number of Cathedral Prep defenders during the Dragons’ 54-12 loss to the Ramblers in Friday's District 10 Class AAA playoff game at Veterans Stadium.
With the win, Cathedral Prep advances to next Friday's D-10 Class AAA championship game against General McLane - a 46-42 winner over Slippery Rock in Friday's second semifinal.
The Ramblers jumped out to a 34-0 lead at halftime and the majority of the second half was bogged down with personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties as both teams became increasingly frustrated. Before the final gun sounded, the teams had combined for 24 penalties and 245 penalty yards.
Still, Warren coach Brad Wright was pleased with the way his team refused to quit, even after falling behind by so much, so early.
"They never quit fighting," said Wright. "We talked with them at halftime about not backing down and not rolling over and they didn't do that. These upperclassmen taught the younger kids a valuable lesson about not giving up and not giving in."
Knowing it was facing an uphill battle as a heavy underdog, Warren (9-3) appeared to have struck the first blow on the game's opening drive. On his first pass attempt of the game, Warren quarterback Austin Jerman hit an open Jordan Willetts and Willetts raced 88 yards up the sideline for an apparent touchdown.
However, the referees determined Willetts had stepped out of bounds after the catch and the play was credited with covering 40 yards. The Ramblers' defense buckled down from there, forcing a punt and giving Prep's offense its first turn with the ball. Cathedral Prep got pressure on Jerman early and often, sacking Warren's QB three times on the opening drive - eight times for the game - and briefly knocking Jerman out of the game.
With Michigan State signees in quarterback Damion Terry and running back Delton Williams on offense, it didn't take the Ramblers long to find the scoreboard. The Prep machine needed just three plays to cover 66 yards and the Ramblers made it 6-0 with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Terry to Troy Woodard. Youngstown State recruit John Chereson kicked the extra point to make it 7-0.
With Jerman out on the next Dragons possession, D.J. Fehlman took over under center and Warren was promptly forced to punt. The Ramblers responded with a second quick score on their ensuing drive. This time, Williams provided the scoring play with an 11-yard touchdown run that made it 14-0.
Jerman returned to the field on Warren's next drive, but that to ended with a punt. Like the Ramblers' previous two drives, the third would also end with a touchdown, as would the fourth.
Williams provided the scoring play on both drives, scoring his second and third touchdowns of the game with scoring runs of six yards and one yard. The fourth touchdown of the night came with 7:06 remaining in the second quarter and made it 27-0 Ramblers after Chereson's kick hit the left upright.
Willetts was able to stop additional Prep damage late in the second quarter with an interception, but Prep would get back on the board before intermission. Terry tossed his second touchdown pass of the night with 1:48 left in the second quarter, hitting Brendan Klemensic with a 25-yard touchdown pass that made it 34-0 at the break. Warren had gone for it on fourth down the play before.
Warren - 2-8 a season ago - nearly got on the board late in the half when Luke Wortman broke free for an 88-yard run, but Williams ran him down at the Ramblers 3 and the Prep defense stiffened to keep the score 34-0.
"The game certainly got away from us a little more than we would've liked in the first half," said Wright. "But we fought until the end and think we did a lot of positive things in the second half."
Those positives didn't come right away as Prep continued to air the ball out despite having a comfortable lead. The Ramblers (11-0) pushed the game into the mercy rule with 11:00 left in the third on Terry's six-yard touchdown pass to Alex Greenwalt. Six minutes later, the duo connected for an eight-yard score to increase the lead to 47-0.
The Ramblers inserted some second-teamers into the game late in the third and Warren immediately responded with a Chris McNeal interception. McNeal actually returned the pick for a score, but it was called back due to penalty.
The McNeal pick helped set up Warren's first touchdown of the night as Jerman and Willetts executed a beautiful screen play and Willetts sprinted 52 yards for the touchdown. The play and its yardage pushed Jerman past Eisenhower graduate Cody Crosby for the most career passing yards by a Warren County quarterback. The extra point try failed and Prep led 47-6 after three quarters.
Prep went back on offense after the Warren score, but Brad Walters stopped that drive with an interception. The ensuing Dragons drive would stall and Prep would take the ball back and quickly score its final touchdown of the night.
The scoring play came on a hard-nosed 13-yard touchdown run from ShaQuon Thrower. Chereson's extra point made it 54-6 with 8:13 remaining in the game.
While most things didn't go Warren's way in the game, the Dragons did provide the final score of the night. Again, it was Jerman and Willetts hooking up - this time from 14 yards out.
Jerman finished his final game 15-of-29 for 251 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. Willetts caught three balls for 106 yards and two scores, Mark Davis had four catches for 39 yards, Cody McGraw three grabs for 64 yards, and Matt Falvo three catches for 21 yards. Wortman led the ground game with 85 yards on four totes.
For Prep, Terry was 'as advertised,' with a 17-of-24, 333-yard and four touchdown performance. Williams scored on all three of his carries and led the team with 89 yards receiving. Greenwalt and Jake DeHart - along with Williams - caught four passes each.
The postgame scene was obviously emotional with the careers of 16 Dragon seniors coming to a close. Wright said, while the tears can be expected, the team has nothing to hang their heads about.
"The seniors should walk off this field holding their heads high," said Wright. "The amount of growth they showed is incredible, both as young men as well as a football team. They are responsible for restoring this program back to being a yearly contender."
C- Troy Woodard 24 pass from Damion Terry, 7:25, John Chereson kick
C- Delton Williams 11 run, 3:35, Chereson kick
C- Williams 6 run, 11:56, Chereson kick
C- Williams 1 run, 7:06, kick failed
C- Brendan Klemensic 25 pass from Terry, 1:48, Chereson kick
C- Alex Greenwalt 6 pass from Terry, 11:00, kick failed
C- Greenwalt 8 pass from Terry, 4:53, Chereson kick
W- Jordan Willetts 52 pass from Austin Jerman, 1:38, kick failed
C- ShaQuon Thrower 13 run, 8:13, Chereson kick
W- Willetts 14 pass from Jerman, 5:23, pass failed
Passing: W- Jerman 15 of 29 for 251, 2 TD, INT; C- Terry 17 of 24 for 333, 4 TD, INT, Billy Fessler 2 of 4 for 25, 2 INT
Rushing: W- Luke Wortman 4 for 85, Matt Falvo 8 for 26, Chris McNeal 2 for 6, D.J. Fehlman 1 for -10, Jerman 15 for -29; C- Terry 2 for 38, ShaQuon Thrower 5 for 37, TD, Billy Fessler 7 for 34, Williams 3 for 18, 3 TD, Jake DeHart 1 for 18, DeAngelo Malone 1 for 12, Nicholas Dubowski 1 for 8
Receiving: W- Mark Davis 4 for 39, Willetts 3 for 106, 2 TD, Cody McGraw 3 for 64, Falvo 3 for 21, Wortman 2 for 21; C- Williams 4 for 89, Greenwalt 4 for 74, 2 TD, DeHart 4 for 67, Charles Fessler 3 for 54, Brendan Klemensic 1 for 25, TD, Troy Woodard 2 for 32, TD, William Norfolk 1 for 17