TALLMADGE: Zach Skraba put a stop to any thoughts of a short postseason for Tallmadge.
Skraba, a junior, made two key defensive contributions in a 14-7 victory over New Philadelphia in a Division II first-round playoff game Friday night at Rossiaky Stadium.
He returned an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter and then made a tackle along the Tallmadge goal line on a Quakers fourth-down rushing play in the fourth quarter as the Blue Devils clung to the lead.
“The interception got me pumped, but I knew it was early in the game and we couldn’t take anything for granted,” Skraba said. “We came out a little flat in the second half, and they ran down the field on us, but on fourth down we were able to stay strong. The linemen stuck up the line, and we made a stop.”
Tallmadge (9-2) plays Aurora (10-1) next. New Philadelphia finishes its season at 7-4.
Skraba and seniors Jake Lukachinsky, Chris Beal and Ness Alghofari teamed up to stop Quakers sophomore running back Jamal Johnson just shy of the end zone with 5:23 remaining in the fourth.
Junior quarterback Anthony Gotto then guided the Blue Devils on a drive to run out the clock.
“It’s nice to win, period,” Tallmadge coach Joe Vassalotti said.
“You have to give New Philadelphia credit. I thought their defense was tremendous. They had good defensive speed, and they had a good scheme to put pressure on us in the passing game. It was tough to get outside on them when we would try to sprint out.
“Our defense was very good, too. When they went to the Wildcat [offense] in the fourth quarter it hurt us a bit. They were able to move the ball on counter plays, but our defense made a huge play when they had to on the goal line.
“As inconsistent as our offense was, at least with five minutes left when we got the ball on our own 1, we were able to methodically move 50 yards and kill the clock. That was very important.”
New Philadelphia opened the game with possession of the ball but went three-and-out with a punt.
Tallmadge put together a 16-play drive on the ensuing possession that covered 67 yards to take a 7-0 lead.
The drive featured a mixture of passing and rushing, and it concluded with a 4-yard touchdown run by senior Ben Schauer with 3:47 to go in the first quarter.
The Blue Devils’ lead grew to 14-0 on the Quakers’ second possession when Skraba intercepted a pass by sophomore quarterback Caleb Beans and returned the ball 78 yards with 45 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
“I was running with the tight end, and our linemen got pressure on the quarterback,” Skraba said.
“He threw it up and then the next thing I know I have the ball, and I’m running down the field. I was cutting, had my teammates blocking for me, and I took it back to the end zone.”
The Quakers cut their deficit to 14-7 with 44 seconds left in the third quarter after junior Dakota Hill ran for a 37-yard touchdown.
Gotto completed 14-of-22 passes for 122 yards. Senior receiver Tucker Linder was Gotto’s top target with five catches for 64 yards.
Tallmadge senior running back Tyrin Williams gained 90 yards on 22 carries with senior Jon Cipa anchoring the Blue Devils’ offensive line. Johnson rushed for 120 yards on 17 carries.
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