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Dragons set to battle Meadville in first playoff game since 2013

For the first time since 2013, the Warren Dragons are in the playoffs.

That task in front of them is a tall one in the District 10 Class 5A semifinal against the Meadville Bulldogs. It’s the same Meadville team that dominated the Dragons on Homecoming.

This is a Warren team, however, that is coming in riding a wave of momentum after rushing for a school-record 558 yards as a team in their win over Franklin last week. But the postseason is a different animal, and Warren coach Mark Morelli thinks his team is up for the challenge.

“I’m assuming that by Saturday morning they will understand the magnitude of what they have the opportunity to do,” he said. “I don’t think it’s hit them yet.”

In the regular-season loss, Meadville’s Aryan Cotterman was a one-man wrecking crew, carrying the ball 20 times for 282 yards and six touchdowns.

What’s more, Meadville controlled both sides of the line of scrimmage, something the Dragons will have to rectify if they hope to flip the script.

Morelli said one of the tools he has been using to motivate his team is the fact that against Franklin, the Dragons had 150 more yards rushing than Meadville did against the Knights.

“A lot of it is just the mental approach to the game,” Morelli said. “Coming into the game with confidence and having that uptick in physicality. It’s a mindset. That’s what we’re trying to pound into our kids’ head, that you can play with these guys. It was only a year ago that you beat them. And they’re a lot of the same kids. A lot of it is more psychological than anything else.”

The Dragons offensive line has played well recently. Alex Zariczny, Alex Zeigler, Brent Young, Tony Batiste, Jake Hayes and Alan McAllister will look to continue to pave the way for a Dragon offense that has gone almost exclusively to the run the past two weeks, attempting just four passes.

“We’ve emphasized the last couple of weeks, driving our man off and maintaining our blocks,” Morelli said. “Meadville is going to present us with a challenge. The last time they played us they dominated us. Again, it goes back to the mental aspect of how we’re approaching the game and how we decide we’re going to play.”

Although he’s the quarterback, junior Micah Passmore is as physical a player as the Dragons have. He has gone over 100 yards rushing in three consecutive games – all wins – but much more than that, he sets the tone with his physicality and the way he embraces contact.

Seniors Ethan Benedict and Ryan Arnold will also see the ball in the ground game quite a bit, especially with junior James Swanson unlikely to play after getting dinged up against Franklin.

Arnold, who along with Alex Anderson has provided a steady 1-2 punch at receiver for Warren, saw steady work in the ground game last week, breaking three long touchdown runs and going over 200 yards.

Expect the Dragons to continue to get the ball in his hands in a variety of ways. He is a gamebreaker.

“There’s an old saying in coaching, dance with those that brung ya,” Morelli said. “Ryan Arnold is one of those people that’s brung us to the playoffs with his play throughout the course of the season. We’re going to try and get the ball in his hands more than we normally would.”

Defensively, the Dragons will have to find a way to get some penetration with their front. That will allow the likes of Jamo Douvlos, who leads the team with 75 tackles, as well as Blake Arnold and Passmore to fill the gaps from their linebacker spots.

The Dragons did get the Bulldogs into several third and long and fourth down situations in their last meeting, but every time the Bulldogs seemed to convert.

They will also have to be wary of the passing game. While the Bulldogs don’t go to the air a lot, quarterback Landon Beck will look for the multi-dimensional Hayden Parks, who also is a threat in the ground game.

“That’s been a little bit of an Achilles Heel for us this year, third and fourth down,” noted Morelli. “It’s a focus thing, knowing the situation and what the other team is going to do. We have to be able to execute in those situations.”

Although both teams share a 6-3 record, Warren knows they are the underdog.

They also know that this game has the opportunity to be much different from the last one, and they have dreams of the first playoff win for the program in seven years.

“This is my 18th playoff game as an assistant or head coach,” noted Morelli. “It’s a whole different atmosphere. Some teams handle the pressure better than others. Some of the biggest upsets, whether it’s in high school, college or pro come in the playoffs because of the heightened anticipation and play of the game. I think they are looking forward to this challenge. They want to see how much better they’ve got since the last time they played them. We know it’s going to be an uphill battle, it’s going to be a challenge. We have to let it all hang out, play with a lot of passion and a lot of energy and go after it with everything we have.”

Statistical Leaders

Warren: Micah Passmore – 49-of-110, 679 yards, 6 touchdowns, 6 interceptions; 103 carries, 796 yards, 10 touchdowns; 38 tackles, 2 interceptions; Ryan Arnold 12 total touchdowns (rushing, receiving, punt/kickoff return), 611 return yards, 361 rushing yards, 279 receiving yards; Alex Anderson 296 receiving yards, 3 TDs; 33 tackles; Jamo Douvlos (75 tackles, 9 tackles for loss), Easton Hultberg (50 tackles), Alex Zeigler (42 tackles, 5 sacks), Brent Young (38 tackles), Blake Arnold (4 sacks).

Meadville: Aryan Cotterman – 148 carries, 1,241 yards, 15 touchdowns; Hayden Parks – 98 carries, 853 yards, 3 touchdowns; 15 receptions, 492 yards, 7 touchdowns; Landon Beck – 24-of-53, 571 yards, 8 touchdowns, 3 interceptions; Winstin Heagy – 87 tackles, 10 tackles for loss; Tommy Pollard – 82 tackles, 3 sacks; Griffin Buzzell – 60 tackles; Sam Burchard – 4 interceptions; Drew Stewart – 3 interceptions

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