WARDSVILLE — It was a minor halftime adjustment, but it played a major role in the final outcome.
The Blair Oaks Falcons finished with 35 yards on just 15 plays in the first half in Saturday's Class 3 quarterfinal game against the Lutheran North Crusaders. The second half would be a completely different story.
Blair Oaks added 310 yards of offense after halftime, as the Falcons knocked off the top-ranked Crusaders 44-9 at the Falcon Athletic Complex to keep their season going.
Lutheran North had the momentum at halftime, as Toriano Pride intercepted a pass from Dylan Hair and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown with :16.7 left in the second quarter. That put the Crusaders ahead 9-7 at the break.
"As a younger coach, I probably would have gone ballistic at halftime," Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said. "But I told our offensive coordinator, 'That's who we are, let it go.' I told our team, 'Let it go.' It's one play. We're not going to have two negative plays.
"It's 9-7. Who cares? We can score 21 points in two minutes. Just be yourselves and play."
The Falcons didn't score 21 points in two minutes in the second half, but they did outscore the Crusaders 37-0 after halftime.
Blair Oaks had been lining up three receivers to one side in the first half. In the second half, the Falcons adjusted and went with a balanced set, with two receivers on each side, something LePage and offensive coordinator Lerone Briggs discussed.
"He looked at me and said, 'Oh my gosh, with the defense they're playing, that's the answer,'" LePage said.
The Falcons also made an adjustment to neutralize Lutheran North defensive end Travion Ford, who had a pair of sacks in the first half.
"We made the adjustment to run a trap at their best player," LePage said. "You usually don't trap their best player, but he was getting so far upfield and affecting us. We started trapping him with an inside trap play."
The end result was a heyday for Blair Oaks running back Jayden Purdy, who had one carry for 1 yard in the first half but finished the game with 15 carries for 124 yards.
"He earned every one of those yards," LePage said. "Our line did a heck of a job blocking. First half, we didn't block very well. Second half, we just really blocked well."
Blair Oaks opened the second half with a four-play, 70-yard drive that featured a 46-yard run by Purdy and ended with a 7-yard touchdown run by Purdy. Carson Prenger caught the 2-point pass from Hair to put the Falcons ahead 15-9 just 1:04 into the second half.
The Blair Oaks defense held from there, as the Falcons did not allow an offensive touchdown against Lutheran North. LePage used the word "educated" to describe the defense in Saturday's win.
"Our guys study so much," he said. "They know every tendency, they know what the situations are. And also, they're pretty talented players."
The Falcons stopped the Crusaders for no gain on fourth-and-1, the first of three straight turnovers on downs for Lutheran North to start the half.
"It was the answer that we needed," LePage said.
The next drive ended with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-9 from the Blair Oaks 36-yard line and the third ended when Carson Bax sacked Lutheran North all-state quarterback Brian Brown on fourth down near midfield on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"Our kids just said, 'It's our time, and we're going to own this,'" LePage said.
Blair Oaks scored off all three turnovers on downs. The first score was a perfect 26-yard pass from Hair to Jake Closser, who beat two Lutheran North defensive backs to make the catch on the back side of the end zone.
Closser also accounted for the other two touchdowns — and 11-yard run to the right on a jet sweep and a 21-yard touchdown catch — to extend the Falcons' lead to 37-9 early in the fourth quarter.
"That's 'Big Time' Jake, man," LePage said, as Closser finished with four catches for 72 yards and two carries for 21 yards. "I'm really proud of him, because on one of those touchdown passes, he called it. 'Big Time' Jake is going to make big-time plays."
The Falcons lost a fumble in the red zone on their next possession, but after getting the ball back off a Lutheran North turnover, Blair Oaks triggered the running clock with a 2-yard run by Purdy, his third touchdown of the game, with 1:56 to play.
Purdy also scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter to account for Blair Oaks' lone score before halftime.
The Blair Oaks defense finished the game with four takeaways. Ian Nolph recovered two fumbles, Rylee Niekamp recovered a fumble and Closser recorded his sixth interception of the season on the game's final play.
"Our players rallied and we thought there were some opportunities for us to make some plays on defense," LePage said.
Lutheran North (5-1) was held to 145 yards of offense. Ali Wells and Jaylin Carson each rushed for 60 yards, but 12 plays went for a loss that slowed many of the Crusaders' drives.
"We never let them have that one big play," LePage said.
Hair finished 7-of-10 passing for 131 yards. The sophomore quarterback was held to minus-5 yards rushing in the first half, but he found positive yards after halftime to finish with 29 yards rushing, as the Falcons totaled 214 yards rushing.
Blair Oaks (11-1), the No. 4 team in Class 3, will play at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cardinal Ritter in the state semifinals. It will be the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
Cardinal Ritter (4-3) advanced in the state playoffs with a 45-7 home win against No. 5 Kennett in Saturday's quarterfinal matchup.
"We're going to enjoy this win, but we also know our goal," LePage said.