BOARDMAN — Early in the third quarter, Perry scored its third touchdown of the night to take a 19-6 lead over West Branch.
Like has happened many times already this season, when the Warriors are backed into a corner, something changes.
The Warriors turned a 20-point swing in the second half, scoring three straight touchdowns to take a 26-19 lead and held on to top the Pirates in the Division IV, Region 13 semifinals.
“At halftime, it was like they were just ticked off, like ‘We’re better than this. Let’s just get back to doing what we do. … Just get after it,’” Warriors coach Ken Harris said. “They didn’t even flinch when (Perry) scored near the beginning of the third quarter. We came back. Credit to the guys, they did not flinch.”
While the game was at a neutral site, being held at Boardman High School, the fans in green provided a home atmosphere for West Branch that only picked up as the game went on.
With each score that chipped away at the Pirate lead, the fans in the home stands got louder and louder.
“It was super,” Harris said. “There were points where I’m not sure if I could even hear. It was great. Those aluminum bleachers make a lot of noise.”
The Warriors’ catalyst for change has continued to be junior quarterback Dru DeShields. In his first year as starter, DeShields has lived up to the pressure. In the regional semifinals Friday, the junior gunslinger threw for 218 yards on 19 completions
Down 19-6 at the start of the third, other teams may have crumbled, but after tough battles against Salem, Poland and Howland earlier in the season, the Warriors (13-0) continue to stand strong.
The reason they don’t crack under pressure is simple. They just don’t want to.
“We just don’t want to lose, we hate losing,” DeShields said. “I feel like that just drives us more when we face adversity. We’ve shown that we can pass through adversity in the Salem game, this game and the Howland game.”
One of the largest pieces of adversity the team fought this year wasn’t a game itself. Coming into the season with a fresh quarterback, there were question marks surrounding the program from the outside.
Inside the locker room however, there was never a doubt of what the team was capable of doing.
“I don’t think we expected anything less this year,” senior receiver Nick Wilson said. “People thought we were losing a lot. We lost our quarterback, but I think we all kind of knew that we were just going to play together and see where that took us.”
With the win, the Warriors reach their third Elite Eight in school history.
West Branch will square off with Ursuline in a rematch of last year’s third-round contest.
The Irish battled back to top Cleveland Glenville 42-38.
With the chance for revenge on the line, it’s safe to say that the Warriors are excited.
“I can’t wait to play Ursuline again,” senior running back Steven Marra, who finished with 62 yards and two scores, said. “It’s going to be a great game. It’s going to be fun. I think we all can’t wait.”
The site of the regional finals is to be determined, but will likely be close given that both teams are in Mahoning County.
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