TIFFIN - Hopewell-Loudon knew its offense would be hindered by the loss of running back Sean Brickner, who suffered a broken leg near the end of last week's win over Ottawa Hills.
But the Chieftains got huge contributions from their defense and special teams to claim a 43-14 victory over Norwalk St. Paul in the Division VI regional final at Frost-Kalnow Stadium last night.
"We've lost players before," said sophomore Lukas Schalk, who returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns. "We just have other guys step up and keep playing. We stepped up and made plays."
Hopewell-Loudon improved to 13-0 and advanced to the state semifinals for the first time. Norwalk St. Paul finishes 10-3.
Hopewell-Loudon drew first blood when Jay McAllister booted a 23-yard field goal midway through the first quarter.
But the Chieftains' offense struggled after that opening drive, generating just 39 yards the rest of the half.
Meanwhile, Norwalk St. Paul used a nine-play, 51-yard drive to score. Quarterback Brad Frank hit Cory Braden on a one-yard slant for the touchdown with
4:20 left in the half.
Norwalk St. Paul took over again on its own 23 with 1:34 to play, but a pair of sacks - and two Chieftain timeouts - forced the Flyers to punt with 46 seconds left. Sophomore Nathan Siebenaller broke through the line to block Joe Stoll's punt, then covered it in the end zone to give Hopewell-Loudon a 10-6 lead at the break.
"The guys beside me picked up the guys in front of me, so I went straight through," Siebenal-
Hopewell-Loudon coach Brian Colatruglio said the punt block probably was the biggest play of the game.
"They had a lot of momentum, and we were kind of struggling and doubting ourselves a little bit," Colatruglio said. "When we blocked that punt, we carried the momentum into the second half."
Then Hopewell-Loudon used a three-touchdown flurry in a 1:21 span in the third quarter to pull away from the Flyers.
The Chieftains used a 14-play, 73-yard drive to reach the end zone, with Kessler scoring from a yard out. Two plays later Seth Devlugt hit Frank and caused a fumble that H-L recovered on the Flyers' 4. From there, Kessler bulled into the end zone.
Then Schalk stepped in front of a Frank pass and returned it 20 yards for the score that set the rout in motion.
Frank did throw a five-yard TD strike to Josh McFadden, but in the final period Schalk got behind the Flyer defense for a 58-yard touchdown catch-and-run, then intercepted another Frank pass and returned it 29 yards for a final score.
Norwalk St. Paul finished with 299 yards of total offense, while Hopewell-Loudon had just 164 yards. But the Flyers' chances were crushed by three fumbles and three interceptions.
"A lot of that resulted from the pressure their defense was able to get on us," Norwalk St. Paul coach John Livengood said. "They were able to get pressure on our quarterback rushing just four down linemen, and that forced us into some bad situations."
Contact John Wagner at: email@example.com or 419-724-6481.