WEIRTON -Madonna battled its way to a 29-14 come from behind victory over St. Marys last night to earn a spot in the West Virginia Class A semifinials next week. The Blue Dons will move on to play the winner of today's game between top-ranked Tucker County and Clay-Battelle, the eighth seed.
St. Marys (10-2), ranked fifth, took it to the Blue Dons early, but Madonna (11-1) was able to capitalize on Blue Devil turnovers in the fast paced game.
"We knew they were a physical football team and that they wanted to run the ball and eat up the clock," said victorious Blue Don coach, Doug Taylor. "That's pretty much what they did."
Photo courtesy of Steubenville - Harold - Star
St. Marys suffered its second loss Friday night, dropping a 29-14 decision to Madonna and in a Class A quarter final playoff game at Weirton.
Ross Comis, Madonna's junior quarterback and defensive safety, was in the middle of just about everything. He had a hand in all four Blue Don touchdowns offensively and on the defensive side he thwarted two Blue Devil forays deep in Madonna territory when he recovered a fumble in the first half and intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter.
Comis scored on two one-yard runs and threw touchdown passes to Elliott Nero for two and 60 yards. The 60-yarder came with 2:51 left in the fourth quarter and put the game away for the Blue Dons.
The Blue Devils drove 93 yards in 17 plays the first time they got possession of the ball with senior quarterback, Andrew Cosper, getting into the end zone on a keeper. Hard-running junior halfback, David Gray, who led all rushers in the game with 143 yards, blasted into the end zone for the two-point conversion to arm the visitors with an 8-0 lead. That drive consumed 7:31 of the clock and with the score coming at 2:21 of the first period, the Blue Dons found themselves with the first period nearly over and they had run just three offensive plays and a punt.
Madonna's offense struggled early, but after the St. Marys score, the Blue Dons got into a long drive of their own.
It began at their own 36 after Anthony Antinone returned the St. Marys kickoff 21 yards. Eleven plays later, Nero took a third down swing pass to the left side from Comis and pranced into the end zone. The play only covered two yards, but it seemed to shift some of the momentum into Madonna's favor.
The Blue Dons lined up to have sophomore Matt Green kick the extra point, but a Blue Devil jumped off side so coach Taylor hurried his offense onto the field and Comis hit Nero on the right side with a pass for the two-pointer that tied the game at 8-8.
The Blue Devils put the ensuing kickoff into play at their own 33 and began to exert their will against the Madonna defense again. They drove 11 plays to the Blue Don 25. On first down, Noah Spitzer got loose over the right side for eight yards, but fumbled when Comis came up from his safety spot to make the tackle. The alert Comis grabbed the football to halt the Blue Devil assault.
It didn't take the Blue Dons long to turn that mistake into seven points as they drove the 73 yards in just six plays. Junior running back, Nick Ossman, who led the Blue Don rushers with 63 yards on 12 carries, churned his way for 13 yards then Comis reeled off 30 yards with a keeper.
Two plays later, Comis hit junior Wil Bowser over the middle for 30 more yards and on the next play he found another junior, Tyler Ewusiak, again over the middle for 11 more. That gave the Blue Dons a first down at the St. Marys one yard line from where Comis scored on a keeper over right tackle.
Green's extra point gave the Blue Dons a 15-8 halftime lead.
"Turnovers were the key," said Jodi Mote, veteran St. Marys coach. "You get in a ballgame like this and you get in the red zone you got to put it in and we just struggled with that tonight in key situations.
"Obviously, we're not a passing team so when we got down late in the game it was difficult. Comis can make you look silly. Our tackling was great in the first half, but it was a little bit better in the second half."
Comis, who went into the game with 1,359 rushing yards, was held to 56 yards on the ground by the staunch Blue Devil defense.
Like they did in the first half, the Blue Devils were first to score in the second half. Senior Derek Barnhart, the Blue Devil 213-pound battering ram of a fullback, blasted up the middle from four yards out for the touchdown that made the score 15-14.
The Blue Devil attempted a trick play for the extra points with Cosper handing off to Gray on an apparent run play. However, Gray abruptly stopped and threw a jump pass into the end zone that didn't find its mark.
On the ensuing possession, the Blue Dons got into the St. Marys end zone again.
Marcello Biondillo returned the kickoff 11 yards to the Madonna 42, but a Blue Devil tackler hit him late out of bounds. The 15-yard penalty allowed Madonna to set up shop at the St. Marys 43.
Madonna scored eight plays later with Comis spinning his way into the end zone from the one. The big play in the drive was a 22-yard pass from Comis to Nero with a half the distance penalty of 11 yards tacked on to give Madonna a first down at the St. Marys 11-yard line.
Green's kick made the score 22-14.
The Blue Devils went on another long drive with the ensuing kickoff relentlessly pounding the Madonna defense with running plays. St. Marys only threw the ball five times. They completed one and one was intercepted.
The interception came on this St. Marys drive. The Blue Devils ran the ball down to the Madonna 12 and suddenly on third down attempted a pass. The Cosper aerial was incomplete.
On fourth down, Cosper lateraled the ball to Gray, who threw the football into the waiting arms of Comis near the 5-yard line.
"When the threw the football back to the back, I did a quick look over my shoulder to see if there was a receiver crossing," Comis explained after the game. "I basically baited him into throwing and he threw it low, but I was able to go down and make the play."
The Blue Dons were able to move the ball to the St. Marys 36, but were forced to give up the ball on downs when the Blue Devils broke up a long pass down the middle to Nero.
That play was important, because the Blue Dons went right back to it the next time they got the football and this time Nero caught the ball in stride and raced to pay dirt in a play that covered 60 yards. With Green's kick, Madonna put the game away.
"On a play early in the game we ran Tyler (Ewusiak), our tight end across the middle and I saw their safety come up and bite on it," said Comis. "So I told coach at halftime to run Elliott on a seam route. The possession before I under threw him on fourth down so I knew he was going to be open again so I just threw it and Elliott made the play.
"St. Marys is a tough team. They fought to the whistle and they hit very hard. They're probably one of the hardest hitting teams we played all year."