The West Liberty-Salem Tigers understood the challenge it faced to keep its high school football season going.
The loss stung just the same.
Four-time, defending state champion Marion Local used three first-half interceptions — including one for a 60-yard TD as the first half expired — to beat West Liberty-Salem 34-0 in the Division VI, Region 22 semifinals Saturday in Wapakoneta.
“This is as good of a team as we’ve ever played,” WL-S coach Dan McGill said shortly after sharing hugs and shedding tears with his players.
A week after giving up a season-high 23 points in its playoff-opening win, Marion Local’s defense clamped down. An interception returned near the Tigers’ goal line set up the Flyers’ first touchdown. The Flyers’ fourth TD of the half came on Joel Goodwin’s pick that he returned 60 yards down the Marion Local sideline.
“You’re down 20-0 and I asked our kids to play as hard as they possibly can,” McGill said of trying to grab the momentum for the second half. “We thought it was important to try and get some points on the board. The kid made a nice play.”
Saturday was the second time West Liberty-Salem had been shut out. The two teams to do it — Mechanicsburg and Marion Local — meet for the Division VI, Region 22 championship 7 p.m. Saturday at a neutral site to be announced Sunday by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
Mechanicsburg beat Delphos Jefferson 42-12 in Sidney on Saturday.
“I like where we’re at right now,” Marion Local coach Tim Goodwin said. “I think we’re going to have a heck of a tussle with Mechanicsburg. I don’t know how that’s going to go. Our kids are being Marion Local kids so they’re fun to coach.”
West Liberty-Salem showed flashes of playing with Marion Local but falling behind 13-0 early — and especially 27-0 at the half — put added pressure on the Tigers. In addition to those four straight state titles, Marion Local hasn’t lost to a non-conference opponent in the playoffs since 2008.
“Obviously I don’t know what they’re thinking, but we do talk about getting off to a fast start,” Goodwin said. “Over the years we’ve been able to get off to fast starts against teams. And once they settle down they can play with us, but they’re down three touchdowns which makes it tough.”
The Midwest Athletic Conference improved to 22-0 against the Ohio Heritage Conference, including a 19-0 record in the postseason.
“When you play a team the caliber of Marion Local you have to make plays in critical moments,” McGill said. “We’d have two great defensive plays then one missed tackle. Offensively we’d move forward then take a sack.
“Their defensive pressure made it difficult for us to get our run game going. Then that just puts pressure on the passing game. I’m proud of the seniors and I’m proud of their effort tonight, despite the outcome.”
Mechanicsburg 42, Jefferson 12: Quarterback Kaleb Romero completed 9 of 11 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 188 yards and two more TDs (76, 34) on 17 carries.
Philip Cook caught four of those passes for 182 yards and TDs of 21 and 48 yards. Cook also rushed for 60 yards and two TDs (11, 5) on 14 carries as the Indians rolled up 505 yards in total offense.
The Mechanicsburg defense held Jefferson to its second-lowest points total (Coldwater beat Jefferson 35-6). David Harvey had three of Mechanicsburg’s four sacks and Romero had a team-high 8.5 tackles, including eight solo.