LIMA - The McComb Panthers got a taste last night of what 56 other teams have received over the last four seasons from Delphos St. John's, Ohio's small-school football powerhouse.
Coach Kris Alge's Panthers came in hoping their high-test spread offense and proven run defense would pose a threat to the top-ranked, three-time defending Division VI state champions.
Instead, ninth-ranked McComb (12-1) was spread all over the field at Lima Stadium by the Blue Jays' unstoppable run-pass mix, and absorbed a 44-3 loss in the regional final.
Delphos, which extended its state-record winning streak to 57 games, advances to the state semifinals on Friday, likely against Midwest Athletic Conference-rival Maria Stein Marion Local (12-1).
The Blue Jays (13-0), who have scored 40 or more points in 14 consecutive games, cranked out 537 yards of total offense to 240 for McComb. Delphos was not forced to punt until 2:58 remained in the game.
“We've got a potent offense,” Delphos coach Todd Schulte said. “If you take one weapon away, we're going to find somebody else. They didn't take our run away totally, and when we went to the pass the big yards were there.”
A harbinger of things to come came on McComb's first play from scrimmage when all-district quarterback Dusty Aldrich was intercepted by St. John's Casey Klaus.
Two plays later, Blue Jay quarterback Craig Hershey got his team on the board on a 42-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Becker just 1:27 into the game.
It also served notice to McComb that leaning too heavily on stopping speedy All-Ohio running back Zach Weber would pose problems. Weber - who gained 121 yards on 16 attempts and scored on a two-yard run with 3:12 left in the first quarter - was held below his 176-yard average. But Hershey and Becker (five catches, 152 yards) made up the slack.
“We knew they were going to score their points, and we had a couple opportunities early where we could've kept it close,” Alge said. “If we make some catches at least we keep it close.
“But they're very talented. Weber was just too much for us, and their quarterback threw nice against our secondary. (Becker) got behind us two or three times and just burned us. But it was a great season. I'm proud of these kids, especially the seniors. They never quit.”
The early 42-yard TD strike was the first of three scoring passes in the game from Hershey to Becker, including a 10-yarder 1:35 before halftime to give the Jays a 28-3 lead, and a 53-yard bomb with 3:27 remaining in the third quarter for a 37-3 advantage.
“Their No. 1 goal was to stop me and the running game,” said Weber, who had four receptions for 91 yards. “That opened up the pass attack. It was very evident that, if you try to take away the rush, we're going to throw.
“Some of the runs weren't hitting, but I can set my ego back. As long as we're winning, everybody's happy.”
Hershey, who also rushed for 71 yards, completed 11 of 13 passes for 317 yards, thus outdueling Aldrich. The Panther quarterback, hindered by a sprained left ankle, hit on 16 of 34 passes for 106 yards.
“They were so worried about stopping the run that it was real nice for us and the passing game,” Hershey said. “I had something to prove (playing against Aldrich). When you have a run-oriented team like us, it's tough to get your passing yards. We opened it up tonight and got what we needed.”
The Panthers only score came after the first of three DSJ turnovers, a fumbled punt return.
McComb took over at the Blue Jay 31 and moved to the 10 before settling for Matt Yates's 28-yard field goal with 7:51 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers would get inside the Delphos 20 only one other time, earning a first-and-goal at the 7 late in the third quarter before sophomore back Josh Haddox (six carries, 64 yards) fumbled a pitch from Aldrich.