In order to compete for the title of best Class AAA team in the district, the Warren Dragons football team must first defeat the best Class AAA football team in the state.
Warren (9-2) defeated Conneaut, 21-12, in the District 10 Class AAA Quarterfinals last Friday at Corry Area High School. It's reward was a meeting with the undefeated Cathedral Prep Ramblers - a team expected to be lifting the state championship trophy in a few short weeks at Hershey. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Erie Veterans Stadium.
Wright's biggest challenge of the week may have started right after the final whistle of last week's victory over Conneaut. With Cathedral Prep looming on the horizon, Wright had to convince his team that beating the Ramblers was a real possibility.
Times Observer photo by Allen Seybert
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Warren receiver Mark Davis listens to instruction from assistant coach Mark Bupp during a practice a War Memorial Field.
"We've done a good job all week of reminding the guys of other sports moments where the underdogs came out on top," said Wright. "Obviously it was a different time and level of play, but these guys came within three points of beating Cathedral Prep in a JV game during their sophomore seasons. We have to go into this game confident. If we don't, we are beaten before we take the field. The kids know they have to play at a different level this week."
While it may seem intimidating to be lining up against the top ranked team in the state - a club with at least four Division I prospects - Wright says he hasn't seen any signs of hesitation in his team in the week of practice leading up to Friday's game.
"I really don't think I've seen any signs of intimidation," said Wright. "We've tried to approach this game like every other one this season. We're worrying about the things that we can do and that we can control. We can't spend our time worrying about what the opposition has accomplished this season."
2012 Dragons Leaders: Passing- Austin Jerman 131 of 212 for 1,823 yards, 26 TD, 7 INT; Rushing- Austin Jerman 114 for 742, 7 TD, Matt Falvo 96 for 557, 7 TD, Luke Wortman 36 for 436, 5 TD, Chris McNeal 65 for 320, 8 TD, Jordan Willetts 25 for 203, 2 TD; Receiving- Mark Davis 36 for 517, 8 TD, Jordan Willetts 37 for 496, 10 TD, Luke Wortman 23 for 356, 3 TD, Cody McGraw 17 for 223, 2 TD
2012 Ramblers Leaders: Passing- Damion Terry 154 of 224 for 2,449 yards, 37 TD, 4 INT; Rushing- Delton Williams 52 for 467, 8 TD, Damion Terry 76 for 425, 9 TD, Deangelo Malone 22 for 261, 3 TD, Shaquon Thrower 34 for 199, 4 TD; Receiving- Delton Williams 44 for 573, 8 TD, Brendan Klemensic 31 for 743, 10 TD, Alex Greenwalt 26 for 410, 6 TD, Jake DeHart 19 for 245, 3 TD
Last 2 Meetings: October 28, 2011- at Warren- Ramblers 63, Dragons 20; October 29, 2010- at Prep- Ramblers 37, Dragons 2
Warren senior Brad Walters agrees.
"Nobody has been intimidated in the least," said Walters. "There's no reason why we can't pull together and knock off the number one team in the state. That's not so say it will be easy, but I have confidence in all of my teammates, and we believe we can play with these guys."
As always, Warren has their share of offensive weapons - especially in the passing game.
Quarterback Austin Jerman went over 4,000 career passing yards in last week's playoff win - the Dragons' first in 10 years. Jerman is the eighth quarterback in D-10 history to reach that mark and Cathedral Prep signal caller Damion Terry reached the mark earlier this season. Jerman's 4,097 leave him seventh in D-10 history. With 124 yards on Friday, he would pass Eisenhower graduate Cody Crosby for sixth all-time.
Willetts and Davis are Jerman's primary targets with 37 and 36 catches respectively this season. Willetts' 37 catches have gone for 496 yards and 10 touchdowns while Davis has amassed 517 yards and eight scores. Other targets include Luke Wortman (23 catches for 356 yards, 3 TD) and Cody McGraw (17 catches for 223 yards, 2 TD).
Against Conneaut, Warren finished with 129 yards and two touchdown passes from Jerman. Davis caught both touchdown passes and Willetts added an electrifying 50-yard touchdown run in the second quarter as well as an interception on defense.
Still, the win was anything but dominant and Wright knows his team has to clean it up if they want to stay within striking distance of the Ramblers.
"We absolutely can't give (Prep) anything," said Wright. "We had some silly penalties and mental mistakes against Conneaut that we were able to bounce back from. You may never get that chance with Prep."
While playing the favorites to win the state title in the district semifinals doesn't necessarily feel like a positive, Wright acknowledged that the contest offers his Dragons a unique opportunity.
"I don't think we've played our best football yet," said Wright. "The game gives us a chance to see how we match up against the best in the state. We know we have to play at a different level. We have to make our blocks, pick up blitzes and execute on both sides of the ball. I don't want to say we have to play perfectly, but we have to be pretty darn efficient in everything we do."
"Most definitely this is like a state championship game to us," said McGraw. "We've played this team the last four years (at different levels) and haven't beat them yet.
"One thing about Prep is that they defeat a lot of teams mentally before you even take the field. We can't allow them to do that to us. We want to come out strong and hit them in the mouth. We have nothing to lose. They have everything to lose. We want it bad. Nobody wants this season to be over yet."
What can one say about Cathedral Prep that the numbers don't already show? The Ramblers are number one in the state and have won their 10 contests by an average of over 40 points a game, including shutouts of 70-0 and 69-0. The team's closest game was a 41-27 win over Class AAAA McDowell on October 5.
Prep's Terry has verbally committed to Michigan State. His career numbers show why the Spartans were interested. Terry is District 10's all-time career passing leader with over 6,100 career passing yards. He also holds the D-10 record in career touchdowns with 74. In his senior season, Terry is 154 of 224 for 2,449 yards with 37 touchdowns and just four picks. On the ground, Terry is second on the team with 425 rushing yards and first on the club with nine rushing touchdowns.
Teammate Delton Williams also recently committed to Michigan State. Williams had a team-best 467 rushing yards with eight scores in 2012, but is also extremely dangerous in the passing game. Terry and Williams have connected 44 times for 573 yards and another eight scores this year. Williams actually makes his mark more from his defensive back position. He has picked off four passes in 2012, returning two for scores. That includes one returned 99 yards for a pick six.
Also getting D-1 looks are kicker Jon Chereson and wideout Brendan Klemensic. Chereson has an offer from Youngstown State while Klemensic has spoken with Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien. No offer has been made to Klemensic who has 31 catches for 743 yards and a team-best 10 touchdowns this season.
"What scares you most about them is just how talented they are," said Wright. "You can do your job perfectly and still get beat. If you get pressure on (Terry) he can scramble and burn you that way. There's no way to stop them on each and every play. You just have to do your best to contain them."