From a one-win season to the Section V football semifinals, 2014 has been turnaround time for Webster Thomas. The fourth-seeded Titans earned their spot with a 21-7 thumping of No. 5 and visiting McQuaid on Friday night behind some tough running by Steven Zaccardo, efficient quarterbacking by Brendan Smith and a swarming defense that limited the Knights to just 185 total yards.
“They’re big and they’re strong and they’re fast. I knew they’d be good defensively. That was no surprise,” McQuaid coach Dan Bates said. “But we didn’t want to change our game plan. Our philosophy is to run between the tackles.”
Nothing doing on that front.
In fact, take away a couple long runs around the outside by Noah Williams (39 yards) and Amari Lawrence (25) and the Thomas defense was downright dominating. Offensively, Zaccardo ran 24 times for 110 yards and powered his way to a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs in the third and fourth quarters to make it 21-0. Smith, a 6-foot-3 junior, was 13-for-19 through the air for 178 yards, and senior receiver Sam Botros-Greenlee had three catches for 53 yards.
Alex Hutchings, a 6-foot-4 senior wideout/linebacker, had the other TD, taking a simple 10-yard pass in the left flat and making a great cutback to score from 10 yards and make it 7-0 early in the second quarter.
“Defensively in the second half we played pretty well. Guys stepped up, a lot of three and outs,” 13th-year Thomas coach Scott Deuschle said. “Our seniors — Jason Indovina, Stone Meleca and Alex Hutchings — played out of their minds in the second half. It was great to see that.”
The Titans (6-2) play No. 1 Victor (7-1), which escaped an upset bid by Webster Schroeder, 31-28, in Saturday afternoon’s Class AA semis at Sahlen’s Stadium. Thomas handed Victor its only loss, 13-0, in their lightning-delayed season opener.
Webster Thomas’ Jason Indovina, right, tackles McQuaid ball carrier Zach Poudrier during a Class AA sectional quarterfinal played at Webster Thomas High School on Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. The Titans won the game, 21-7.
That victory announced that Thomas, after three wins in 2012 and just one last year, was back.
“I kind of had a feeling this was coming this year,” said Zaccardo, 17, whose brother, Joe, 27, quarterbacked the Titans to the 2004 sectional crown and the state semis. “It definitely feels great to do this my senior season.”
A change in team leadership, along with more off-season dedication, has been the difference, said Indovina, a catalyst among Thomas’ fly-to-ball linebackers.
“The past couple years I feel like there hasn’t been much leadership. I’ve witnessed it. It’s different this year,” Indovina said.
The defense had two takeaways, a pivotal second-quarter interception by Meleca and a fourth-quarter fumble recovery by Hutchings. Meleca and lineman Nick Zona each had four tackles and Hutchings had three.
After being pinned back inside its 10, McQuaid (5-3) was driving late in the first half to try to tie it at 7. But on third-and-seven from the Thomas 30, Mike Howland rolled right and his pass was tipped and picked by Meleca, a defensive back.
“Our defense has been playing great all year. I expect it out of them every week, just like they expect our ‘O’ to produce,” Smith said.
The Titans made it 14-0 late in the third quarter, chewing nearly six minutes off the clock with an 11-play, 59-yard drive that Zaccardo finished by bulling over from the 1. The big play was a 33-yard pass to Botros-Greenlee that put the ball at the McQuaid 15.
Then Zaccardo powered a 64-yard drive by rambling 17 yards with a screen pass and making a good cutback in the middle of the line on a 31-yard jaunt to the McQuaid 17. The Knights made it 21-7 on Jake Zimmer’s 5-yard TD run with 4:47 remaining, but unless Thomas gave the ball away — which it didn’t do all night — the game was over.
“It’s great to finally win a sectional game,” said Indovina, a third-year varsity player. “It’s been quite a few years since we’ve done that.”
So long that not everyone is sure, but Deuschle said the drought started in 2008.
“These kids play for each other. They’re a true team. I know it sounds cliché,” Deuschle said. “They care about each other. They do the right thing in the hallways and the classroom. They’re easy to root for.”