The Watterson High School football team's defense has passed each test it has faced in the Division III playoffs.
After holding DeSales' option offense in check during a 14-7 victory Nov. 6 to begin the postseason, the Eagles dominated Elida's pass-oriented approach by intercepting five passes in a 21-7 regional semifinal victory Nov. 13.
Last Saturday, Watterson won a matchup of power football by beating Tiffin Columbian 18-7 to advance to a state semifinal for the first time since 2004.
The Eagles' next foe will look more like DeSales than the past two opponents, but with a quarterback who outweighs his linemen.
With an offensive line that averages just 195 pounds, Cincinnati McNicholas will have a significant size disadvantage at the line of scrimmage when it faces Watterson at 7 p.m. Saturday in Clayton Northmont's Good Samaritan Stadium.
But the Rockets possess size in one area in which they'll try to take advantage - their quarterback.
Senior Matt Staubach, who is 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, has rushed for 1,140 yards and 22 touchdowns in McNicholas' triple-option offense.
"He's probably the biggest quarterback we've seen," Eagles coach Dan Bjelac said. "They're going to do some of the triple stuff and he's also going to be reading plays. I thought we were good (against Columbian) at running to the ball and we were pretty physical up front. You hope you can continue that every week."
McNicholas is in the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Coach Steve Klonne, who earned his 200th career victory earlier this season, will be retiring as season's end.
The winner will play for the state title at 3 p.m. Dec. 3 in Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium against Akron Buchtel or Alliance Marlington.
Staubach is the most obvious weapon in McNicholas' offense, but senior Rob Rice has 904 yards rushing and five touchdowns and junior Dillon Stanfield has rushed for 401 yards and four scores. Staubach also has thrown for 765 yards and eight touchdowns.
Watterson's defense has given up an average of just 8.1 points. Last Saturday, the defensive front featuring linemen Justin McCarthy and Hunter Maynard and linebackers Craig Fada, Matt Redfield and Michael Szaraz stuffed Columbian's running game and got constant pressure on quarterback Ryan Tittle.
Redfield had an interception, Fada had a fumble recovery and Maynard had a tackle for loss.
"We get in the weight room and get after people," Maynard said. "We know how to make stops."
"We played as a whole (last Saturday)," Fada said. "We're not selfish. There are not individual players on this defense. We just play as a team."
Watterson went with quarterback Patrick Rhomberg in all but one series last Saturday and is likely to attempt the same against McNicholas.
Despite not being able to drop back more than a couple steps into the pocket because of a right foot injury, Rhomberg was 13-for-23 passing for 113 yards with one touchdown against Columbian.
The Eagles' running game complemented his performance by rushing for 153 yards.
"(Rhomberg's injury) affected some of what we called," Bjelac said. "We didn't have any of the option stuff, but we were able to find some things that worked. I thought he did a great job. It's only going to be better (this) week."