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Football coaches since before Knute Rockne have always preached the value of playing turnover-free.
You could almost feel the ghosts of football past cringing Saturday night, when West Holmes and Dover met at the sport's birthplace, Canton, in a Div. III, Region 11 final.
All season, West Holmes prided itself in keeping the football on offense, and keeping good care of it. But the Knights let the ball -- and the game -- get away in an uncharacteristic third quarter, as Dover took full advantage and pulled away for a 48-21 victory at Fawcett Stadium.
West Holmes (11-2) had six turnovers, three on third-quarter possessions. Dover (11-2) turned all three into touchdowns and turned a 21-14 halftime lead into a 41-14 margin early in the fourth quarter. The Tornadoes, who had lost in the regional final the last five years and six of the last seven, advances to its first Final Four next Friday against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
"The one thing is, this isn't rocket science. You can't hand the opposing team the ball," West Holmes coach Kevin Maltarich said. "They took advantage of every situation and put points on the board."
The Knights trailed 21-7 late in the second quarter, but went 71 yards in 11 plays to make it a one-score game on Garrett Mackey's fourth-down 1-yard plunge in the final minute of the first half. West Holmes actually had another scoring chance in the half when it got the ball as far as the Dover 12 on an interference call, but Gabe Snyder was intercepted in the end zone and the Tornadoes held on to their 21-14 advantage.
West Holmes took the second-half kickoff and went on one of its patented ball-control drives, but a fumbled exchange stopped the Knights at the Dover 15. The defense forced a punt, but Kyle Abel's boomer hit the turf, took a skidding bounce, and deflected off of WH return man Brady Arnold. Dover recovered at the Knight 16 and two plays later quarterback Mason Mamarella rolled left, drilled a pass to Brant Raber in the left flat, and Raber raced into the end zone for a 28-14 lead.
On West Holmes' next series, Snyder's third-down pass sailed high and over his target and into the hands of Dover safety Devin Patrick. Two runs took the ball to the WH 38, and Raber then took a delayed handoff, got through the line, then danced by several defenders en route to another score. Layne Perone fumbled the ball away on the Knights' next play from scrimmage, and Dover used seven runs to go 39 yards for a 41-14 lead on Mamarella's 2-yarder just into the fourth quarter.
The Tornadoes didn't do anything fancy offensively, running 35 times for 196 yards -- with Raber carrying 11 times for 89 yards and Mamarella 20 times for 78 yards -- while Mamarella was 6-of-12 passing for 137 yards.
But they picked up critical first downs when they needed to, and played mistake-free football.
"That was a very tough unit we just did that against," said Dover coach Dan Ifft. "The kids fought and fought tonight, they were resilient -- it's been a long time coming for us. For six years, we've been second every year here, and I guess if you keep fighting long enough, something good happens."
Mamarella had a part in six of Dover's seven touchdowns, scooting in on scoring runs of 7 and 12 yards in the first half and the 2-yarder in the second half, while tossing TD passes of 55 yards to Cory Contini and 48 yards to Trey Wallick, in addition to the 16-yarder to Raber. Wallick keyed two first-half scores with punt returns of 43 and 29 yards.
"Mason swung the game for us and was phenomenal, and the kids up front did a great job," Ifft said.
"He was our biggest concern," said Maltarich of the 5-foot-10, 150-pound Mamarella. "He's not the Eastern District Player of the Year for nothing."
West Holmes had possession of the ball for over 28:00, running for 291 yards. Perone had 176 yards on 26 carries, while Mackey ran for 60 yards on 13 tries. Snyder had the two interceptions and was only 1-of-7 passing for 25 yards.
It was a disappointing end to a season of rebirth for the West Holmes program, which last appeared in the postseason in 2000. The Knights also captured a share of the Ohio Cardinal Conference title, its first.
"The kids earned the right to play in this game," said Maltarich, who added that his 18 seniors "built a solid foundation for years to come."
"We didn't play our best game," he added, "but when we reflect back, it's been a heckuva season."