With a 34-14 win over previously unbeaten Bascom Hopewell-Loudon Friday at Massillon’s Paul Brown Stadium in the Division VI state championship game, DSJ hoisted the title trophy for the fifth time in school history and its first since 2005. DSJ utilized a stifling defense and excuted its option offense well to claim the title.
MASSILLON – The day after Thanksgiving is commonly known as ‘Black Friday’.
But for the Delphos St. John’s football team, the day after Thanksgiving was Blue and Gold – state championship gold – that is.
With a 34-14 win over previously unbeaten Bascom Hopewell-Loudon Fri., Nov. 28 at Massillon’s Paul Brown Stadium in the Division VI state championship game, DSJ hoisted the title trophy for the fifth time in school history and its first since 2005.
DSJ (13-2) utilized a stifling defense to force three turnovers and hold H-L (14-1) to its lowest point total of the season. The Blue Jays also scored more points on the Chieftains than any other team this season.
“It was just a matter of staying determined,” DSJ head coach Todd Schulte said. “We made some adjustments on defense in the second half and had a pretty solid option game that we were able to run today.”
DSJ was paced by junior quarterback Wes Ulm, who tallied 198 yards rushing on 24 carries and a touchdown running the option offense.
Sophomore running back Jordan Leininger added 58 yards rushing on 18 carries and two touchdowns as well as a score through the air.
DSJ outgained H-L 389-238 in total offensive yards but 116 of the Chieftains yards came on two of their first three drives.
The Blue Jays also held a 32:11-15:59 advantage in time of possession.
“Their kids made big plays,” H-L head coach Brian Colatruglio said. “The quarterback and tailback made some clutch plays on offense and we just couldn’t get off the field on defense.”
All-Ohio quarterback Tyler Brown was 14-of-27 passing for 182 yards and a touchdown but threw two costly interceptions.
“We just can’t turn the ball over,” said Brown. “I don’t think I have thrown two picks in one game all year and you can’t throw picks.”
Wide receiver Jay Yost reeled in eight Brown passes for 105 yards and a touchdown.
But the DSJ defense was suffocating holding the H-L spread offense scoreless in three quarters.
“We made some coverage adjustments and it was just a matter of letting our kids execute,” Schulte said.
DSJ got on the board first on its first possession of the game setting the tone for the afternoon after H-L opened play with a three-and-out deep in its own territory.
The Blue Jays took over with good position at midfield and wasted no time marching to the end zone in five plays in just over 1:30. Leininger got his number called and took it in from nine yards to give the Blue Jays an early 7-0 lead.
H-L settled in and answered orchestrating a 6-play, 65-yard scoring drive capped off by a 9-yard Aaron Kapelka run to knot the score 7-7.
DSJ went four-and-out on its next possession and H-L, with good field position on its own 49, capitalized scoring in nine plays on a drive that included a fourth down conversion. Brown connected with Yost for a 12-yard touchdown strike to give H-L a 14-7 lead in the final seconds of the first quarter.
H-L senior linebacker Justin Hohman picked off Ulm giving the Chieftains the ball on the DSJ 47 but the Chieftains offense couldn’t capitalize as DSJ stuffed a Brown run on fourth down.
With the door open, DSJ put together a 5-play, 58-yard scoring drive to tie game 14-14 midway through the second quarter. Ulm raced 26 yards to the end zone on the scoring play as the game’s momentum took a sudden shift towards the Blue Jays.
And DSJ scoring onslaught wasn’t finished in the first half.
The Blue Jays took possession on the H-L 31 after an errant Yost punt that netted just 11 yards. DSJ scored two plays later with Ulm finding senior wideout Jay Leininger in the end zone for a 26-yard scoring strike to take a 21-14 lead into halftime.
“With the shank punt, we would have been content going in the half 14-14 but to be able to get that score knowing we were going to get the ball back, that’s huge,” Schulte said.
Added Colatruglio: “I thought we controlled the game in the first half and we were where we needed to be but that was a big swing there in the second quarter.”
DSJ opened up the second half with an astronomical 16-play scoring drive that ate 8:55 off the clock. On fourth down and five from the H-L 6, DSJ looked to Jordan Leininger again and he barreled into the end zone.
Matt Brickner blocked the point after attempt and DSJ held a 27-14 lead late in the third quarter.
“In my wildest dreams I didn’t think we would get a (16-play) drive to start the second half and score on fourth (down) and five. It was just a heck of a drive,” said Schulte.
Added Colatruglio: “They took the whole quarter and scored. Teams have said for a couple of years the best way to stop our offense is to try and run the ball and control the ball and score points and they did that.”
On the next possession, H-L was marching but the drive was cut short when a Brown pass intended for Yost was picked off by defensive back Brad Hoffman. DSJ was forced to punt but Brown was picked off again – this time by A.J. Klausing – giving the Blue Jays the ball on their own 46.
In fitting fashion, DSJ put a bow on the championship three plays later when Ulm connected with Jordan Leininger for a 53-yard touchdown.
“All week, people were asking me what the keys to the game were and I told everyone of them that is was going to be turnovers, special teams and third downs,” Colatruglio said. “And I think we pretty much got handled in all of those areas.
“If you are going to win against a great team you are going to need to win in two of those three areas and I think we (didn’t win any).”
180 Degree Turnaround
DSJ finished a dismal 2-8 last season – one of the worst seasons in the traditional power’s history.
“It comes back to us being a family and being close together,” Ulm said about coming back and winning a title this season. “When things go wrong we can rely on each other to pick each other up and I think that is key.”
DSJ finished tied for third in the formidable Midwest Athletic Conference but the tough regular season against championship caliber teams helped the Blue Jays come playoff time.
“Coming into the playoffs, we were told we lack playoff experience,” Schulte said. “My response to that is every Friday night and Saturday night we are playing playoff caliber teams.
“We don’t believe once we get to the playoffs teams are going to roll over for us but it does give you and advantage. We’ve faced some good people and we’ve taken our bumps and bruises and moved on. It is just a good thing to get our kids ready.”
The DSJ championship marks the seventh football state championship for a MAC school in the last four year and the third in Division VI in that time span.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
The title game marked H-L’s second straight runner-up finish in Ohio’s small-school division after falling to Newark Catholic 28-14 in last season’s title game.
“There are 716 schools in Ohio and only 12 are playing this weekend,” Colatruglio said. “I am so proud of these kids and it is a once in a lifetime experience.”