The game plan for Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward was simple: Pound the ball at Cleveland (Ohio) Glenville's strong but thin defensive front and wear it down.
It took a half of football for it to work, but once it did, St. Edward's depth and determination brought it an easier-than-expected 42-22 victory in a Ohio Division I state playoff game between two teams in the RivalsHigh Top 100.
"We expected to win," St. Edward quarterback Kevin Burke said after passing for two touchdowns and running for a third. "After a tough first half, we knew we could either crumble or we could step up to the challenge. Our seniors chose the latter."
The victory improved No. 22 St. Edward to 12-0 and sent it into the Region 2 final of the nation's toughest state tournament. Next up for St. Edward is No. 54 Solon (Ohio) High.
The loss is the first of the season for No. 24 Glenville (11-1) and keeps explosive dual-threat quarterback Cardale Jones and the Tarblooders from a state title for a disappointing second season in a row.
While St. Edward's offense wasn't pretty, its plan was simple and effective.
Using the two-headed rushing monster of Reggie Terrell and Terrell Bates - who combined to run for 151 yards and two touchdowns - the Eagles dominated time of possession. St. Edward passed the ball only five times all game (though two of those passes went for touchdowns). In all, the Eagles ran the ball 44 times for 235 yards, most impressively averaging a whopping 6.7 yards on each first-down snap.
Glenville seemingly knew what was coming, but the Tarblooders couldn't stop it. With a handful of linemen working both ways, many struggled to maintain endurance through a brutally grating game.
"We knew we could control the line," Bates said. "We were able to do that and we just wore them down."
Jones' athleticism helped the Tarblooders take a 16-14 halftime lead, but he was forced into a pair of poor decisions early in the second half that changed the course of both teams' seasons.
On the first possession of the half, Glenville was on the move when Jones threw his second interception of the game - a pass that was picked off and returned 85 yards for a score by Cory Blackstock to give St. Edward a 21-16 lead.
Moments later, Jones would make a similar mistake, again flustered by defensive pressure that was the byproduct of a collapsing offensive line.
On a 3rd-and-24 following a big sack, the quarterback scrambled left looking to buy time before releasing a desperation pass. St. Edward's Rob Coury was on the other end. And despite playing with a broken hand encased in a hard cast, he was able to pull in an interception just inches above the turf to give the Eagles the ball in Glenville territory.
That was the opening St. Edward needed to take firm control.
Five plays later, wide receiver Chris Connors pulled in an 18-yard touchdown reception from Burke to give the Eagles a 28-16 lead.
Just for good measure, defensive back Avery Bailey picked off a fourth Jones pass with 7:59 remaining, a stunning total considering the fact that Jones had only thrown six all season entering the game. By game's end, St. Edward had scored 21 points off Jones' interceptions, compared to just six scored by Glenville following St. Ed's lone fumble.
"We were able to re-adjust at halftime and the defensive really stepped up," St. Edward coach Rick Finotti said. "I think it's human nature to start to overreact and break away from the game plan when you're being driven on like they were on us at the start of the third quarter, but our kids stuck with the game plan and came through with a big play."
For Glenville, the end was yet another heartbreaking conclusion to an impressive regular season that had the school primed to become the first Cleveland public school to win a Division I state title. Last year, the Tarblooders fell at the final hurdle in a 16-15 loss that came on a two-point conversion by Hilliard Davidson.
"It's a tough way to end," Glenville coach Ted Ginn Sr. said. "We've done a really good job of protecting the ball this year, but we just made a few mistakes in the third quarter that got back to us."