By Jim Manion | Correspondent
For Mogadore head coach Matt Adorni and his den of Wildcats, one of the sweetest things about high school football is to practice on Thanksgiving.
Practicing on Thanksgiving means your team is in the state's final four.
The undefeated Wildcats (13-0) will enter the OHSAA's state final four next Friday night for the 16th time in school history.
Mogadore made it look easy Friday night at Ravenna's Gilcrest Stadium, eliminating Youngstown Christian 42-20 in a contest that avenged an early first-round exit last year. The Eagles beat Mogadore last season 20-17 for Youngstown Christian's first-ever playoff win.
Mogadore will now meet Newark Catholic, which beat Danville 48-46 for the Region 23 championship. There is a long history between Mogadore and Newark Catholic, with the Green Wave owning eight state championships.
Mogadore senior All-Ohio running back Gary Strain had a career night in punching out 292 yards in 34 carries and a pair of touchdowns, leading his team to 374 rushing yards. Strain has now gained 1,973 yards rushing on the season.
The power offense of the Wildcats took a 28-0 halftime lead and controlled 35-0 after three quarters, before the Eagles did manage to put up 20 points on a trio of mistakes by the Wildcats' JV team in the final seven minutes of the game.
Adorni had a tremendous amount of praise following the contest for two players that stepped up in game No. 13 -- Bryce Huth and Evan Uhalley.
Both have been defensive stalwarts all season, but were forced to move to the other side of the ball because of key injuries to starting offensive players. Jake Cramer went down last week and Brandon Berry was sidelined early Friday night.
"I just can't say enough about Bryce and Evan tonight. They both stepped up and it shows how you have to have everyone on your roster ready to play," said Adorni.
Huth ran the ball only three times for five yards, but scored a touchdown, while Uhalley only carried the ball one time and scored a 7-yard TD.
The Wildcats put the game on ice in the third quarter when Jeremy Hugg made his first of two fumble recoveries after a jarring hit by Justin Chew at the 1-yard line as it appeared the Eagles were about to score for the first time in the game. The Wildcats then proceeded to march 99 yards for a score and a 35-0 lead.
"Our kids were excited last week when they realized we would be playing Youngstown Christian. We executed our game plan almost perfectly. We knew we wanted to pound it and not take many chances because on film that team really did a lot of good things. They are fast, but you know on this turf we are pretty fast also," added Adorni.
Mogadore had five possessions in the first half and scored four times, only punting once. The Cats amassed 270 total yards, while yielding only 40 yards to the Eagles.
Strain busted his first carry of the night by breaking off tackle and racing 82 yards to stun the Youngtown Christian fans. The Cats gained possession after the defense stopped the Eagles and limited them to a net minus yards in their first possession.
Mogadore opened the second quarter by marching 83 yards in 15 plays and using over seven minutes of the clock. Strain carried the majority of the mail, but Huth went in for the score from the 1 with 7:54 remaining on the first-half clock.
On the ensuing kickoff, Youngstown Christian's Darien Townsend -- in an effort to gain extra yardage -- had the ball pop in the air and Hugg grabbed the pigskin out of the air to gain possession for the Wildcats at the Youngstown Christian 30-yard line.
Seven running plays by Strain and Mogadore notched another touchdown and a 21-0 lead as he went in from the 1.
The Wildcats gained possession with only 55 seconds in the half, and on the first play from their 27-yard line Strain broke off another classic run, which would have been a 73-yard score. However, it was nullified by a holding penalty.
Anthony Ricci then hit Austin Pierce with a 38-yard pass, then threaded the needle by hitting his favorite target, Kasey Beard, with a 28-yard touchdown just inside the right pylon for a 28-0 halftime advantage.
In the fourth quarter, the Eagles scored on a pair of fumble recoveries. Paris Bennett picked a ball off the turf and dashed 48 yards to paydirt. After Andrew Owens scored another touchdown for Mogadore, Robert Thompson picked up a loose ball that was put on the turf by the Wildcats and raced 40 yards to another defensive touchdown by Youngstown Christian.
Eagles quarterback Emmett Underwood hit Darien Townsend with a short flair pass late in the game, and Townsend rambled 73 yards for another score.
Mogadore appears to be peaking at the right time of the season, but Adorni was quick to remind his players following the game that they didn't play well the last time they were in the state semifinals.
"It's not going to be that way next Friday," Adorni said. "We are going to leave everything on the field and we are going to be ready to play."
DIVISION VI, REGION 21 REGIONAL FINAL
MOGADORE 42, YOUNGSTOWN CHRISTIAN 20
(At Ravenna High School)
CHRISTIAN 0 0 0 20 -- 20
MOGADORE 7 21 7 7 -- 42
MOG -- Strain 82 run (Jones kick)
MOG -- Huth 2 run (Jones kick)
MOG -- Strain 1 run (Jones kick)
MOG -- Beard 28 pass from Ricci (Jones kick)
MOG -- Uhalley 8 run (Jones kick)
YC -- Bennett 48 fumble return (Yargo kick)
MOG -- Owens 7 run (Jones kick)
YC -- Townsend 73 pass from Underwood (Yargo kick)
YC -- Thompson 40 fumble return (kick failed)
First Downs 9 20
Rushing att.-yds. 16-25 53-374
Passing comp.-att. 11-21 5-6
Passing yards 215 81
Passes int. by 0 1
Fumbles no.-lost 2-2 2-2
Penalties-yds. 4-30 6-25