By JAMIE BAKER
COLLINS — Like a championship prize fight, Carey and top-seeded Western Reserve went at it blow-for-blow right up through the 12th and final round.
In the end, it was the young, upstart title contender that finally landed that knockout punch, right before the sound of the final bell.
After losing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, Carey responded with a seven-play scoring drive in the final two minutes to upend the Roughriders 50-41 in a wild Division VI, Region 22 quarterfinal Friday night at Bachelder Field.
It was a fourth quarter to remember.
With the win, Carey advanced to take on Jeromesville Hillsdale (8-3), a 25-21 winner over Galion Northmor, in next Friday night’s regional semifinals at a site to be determined Sunday by the OHSAA.
Western Reserve, the Firelands Conference champs that were just 2-8 a year ago, bowed out of the tournament at 9-2.
The Blue Devils, who eased into the postseason at 5-5, played like the team that knocked off unbeaten Seneca East 26-20 in Week 7, moreso than the one that finished the first half of the season with a 1-4 record.
The two teams combined to score seven touchdowns in a wild fourth quarter that saw Carey’s leads of 28-14 and 35-21 evaporate in the blink of an eye.
Yep, these Blue Devils, who feature a number of young sophomores and freshmen in key spots, especially along the line, did some growing up against the Roughriders.
“Every week you get to play, you do a little bit of growing up. I’ll take as many of these nights as you’ll give me,” Carey coach Jon Mershman said with a smile.
“I knew I was going to get the best effort from my kids. The way we practiced this week and we prepared, honestly, if felt like the week before we played Seneca East. I couldn’t wait for the school day to get over. We were focused; I could feel it all week.”
Some of that focus may have gotten a bit derailed in a small stretch of the fourth quarter.
Carey senior Reece Billock, who finished with 142 yards on 15 carries and three touchdowns, slammed into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run with 5:18 left in the game, pushing the Blue Devils’ advantage to 35-21.
The Roughriders were stunned, but managed to pick themselves off the canvas and quickly put Carey’s season on the ropes.
Western Reserve’s Cory Hipp hauled in a 40-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jude Muenz with 4:13 remaining.
After a successful onside kick, it took just three plays for Western Reserve 2,000-yard rusher Cody Benesh to score on an 8-yard run to tie the game at 35-35 with 3:24 left.
After forcing Carey into a three-and-out, Benesh found a seam and took the ball 69 yards for a touchdown. It was Western Reserve’s third score in the span of 2:36, giving them an improbable 41-35 lead after a missed PAT kick.
Carey, though, still had enough gas in the tank to weather the Roughriders’ rally and deliver a knockout blow of their own.
Starting a drive at their own 38 with 1:37 left, senior quarterback Ethan Beringer, who was 14 of 19 passing for 201 yards, ran for a dozen yards to get the ball to midfield.
He connected with Bryce Conti for a 22-yard pass and a 6-yarder to Ian Yeater.
A fumbled pitch to Billock resulted in a 2-yard loss, before Beringer hit Conti for a 9-yard gain, giving the Blue Devils a first-and-goal at the 5 with just 24 seconds left.
Mershman used his final timeout and Billock took the handoff on a sweep to the right and took the ball into the end zone to tie it.
Anthony Bell added the PAT kick to make it 42-41, delivering the game-winning knockout punch to the Roughriders.
“Coach called the play. I looked at the line and told them, ‘You block them and I’ll get in,'” Billock said.
“When I crossed the line, I bent over and saw the line and thought Yeah, I’m in.”
Freshman Landen Kemerley got the final jab in against Western Reserve when he scooped by a Benesh fumble, the only turnover of the game, and cruised into the end zone from 36 yards out with 5 seconds remaining.
The Blue Devils are hoping to take Friday’s momentum into Week 12 and keep their season going, because right now, it just feels too good to let it end.
“We were playing with a chip on our shoulder tonight. We’re all growing up, sophomores are growing up, juniors are growing up, seniors are growing up. Everything is jelling together; it’s just awesome,” Billock said. “We’re becoming a family.”
Carey 0 14 14 22 — 50
Western Reserve 0 7 7 27 — 41
WR — Benesh 2 run (Webb kick)
CAR — Billock 71 run (Bell kick)
CAR — Conti 2 pass from Beringer (Bell kick)
CAR — Crawford 37 pass from Beringer (Bell kick)
WR — Perkins 50 pass from Muenz (Webb kick)
CAR — Williams 2 run (Webb kick)
WR — Benesch 2 run (Webb kick)
CAR — Billock 2 run (Bell kick)
WR — Hipp 40 pass from Muenz (Webb kick)
WR — Benesch 8 run (Webb kick)
WR — Benesch 69 run (kick failed)
CAR — Billock 5 run (Bell kick)
CAR — Kemerley 36 fumble return (Curlis run)
First Downs 26 20
Rushes-yards 42-229 25-152
Passing Yards 201 266
Comp-Att-Int 14-19-0 14-21-0
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 5-50 3-30
PASSing — Carey, Beringer 14-19-0-201. Western Reserve, Muenz 14-21-0-266.
rushing — Carey, Billock 15-142, Kemerley 3-3, Beringer 18-68, Williams 5-11, Barney 1-5. Western Reserve, Benesh 18-124, Muenz 6-21, Hipp 1-7.
receiving — Carey, Conti 6-76, Crawford 3-74, Billock 29, Yeater 3-42. Western Reserve, Weisenberger 5-65, Perkins 1-50, Benesh 2-45, Wyers 4-60, Hipp 1-40, Suhr 1-6.
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