Big Red plays Friday; Madonna on Saturday

Two thrillers, one producing a heart-breaking loss, along with a business as usual outing highlighted Week 12 of the high school football season.

Big Red advanced to the Division IV, Region 13 title game thanks to its thrilling 22-20 victory over Maysville at Red Devil Stadium in St. Clairsville Friday.

The difference in the game was Johnnie Blue’s two-point conversion following Big Red’s second touchdown (Blue did the honors from a couple of yards out).

Reno Saccoccia’s club, now 8-4, will collide with second-seeded Indian Valley, 10-2, in the regional championship. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Dover’s Crater Stadium.

Catholic Central saw its outstanding season end via a 27-22 loss to top-seeded Glouster Trimble in the Division VII, Region 25 semifinals. The Crusaders, who finished 9-3, scored in the final quarter and threatened again late in the game, but came up short.

Madonna, the top seed in West Virginia’s Class A tournament, advanced thanks to a 52-0 win over Tucker County. The now 11-0 Blue Dons compiled 433 yards of offense.

Doug Taylor’s club, which has home field advantage until the Super Six, gets another shot at Wahama in the second round. The White Falcons are the defending Class A champions, thanks to a 43-42 overtime win over the Dons.

“I don’t think we really have to talk to the kids about what happened last year – they know,” said Taylor. “We view this as an opportunity to redeem ourselves. The kids are excited about the challenge that is ahead of them to see if we can’t change the outcome.”

The rematch is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Jimmy Carey Stadium.

“They have a great program down there,” said Taylor. “This is going to be a big test for us. Their offensive and defensive lines are pretty much the same from last year. They lost their quarterback (Trenton Gibbs) and their big fullback (Zack Wamsley). But, they moved their big tight end to fullback and have a transfer at quarterback. They have a pretty good football team and they are really close to being what they were last year.”

Big Red and Indian Valley, based in Gnadenhutten, will be meeting for the first time in Friday’s regional title game.

The Braves advanced via a 7-3 win over Philo. Indian Valley is in the playoffs for the third time and earned its first two post-season victories this season. Big Red, on the other hand, now is 49-22 all time in the post-season.

Big Red, which fell in the regional semifinals the past two seasons (losing to West Holmes and Cardinal Mooney), last earned a regional title in 2009. During its current streak of reaching the playoffs 13 straight years, the Red has captured five regional championships.

Indian Valley, which lost to Akron Manchester and Wooster Triway, is a team that likes to run the football. The Braves average 326 rushing stripes per game compared to just 69 passing. In the win over Philo, Logan Ryan compiled 122 rushing yards, Brady Byers 86 and Jake Davis 65.

Sophomore quarterback Mandela Lawrence-Burke had another outstanding game for Big Red in the win over Maysville. He threw for 204 yards and two scores while adding another 31 yards rushing. Lucas Herrington caught seven Lawrence-Burke passes for 133 stripes and both touchdowns (one covering 57 yards and the other 34).

Blue contributed 95 rushing yards and a score.

Saccoccia’s club again had problems with penalties, drawing nine flags for 97 yards. In its win over Licking Valley, Big Red was guilty of 13 for 161.

“It was a great team victory,” Saccoccia said following the two-point win. “But we make it so tough on ourselves (referring to the penalties).”

Catholic Central found itself down 27-15 early in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s showdown with Trimble in Zanesville.

The Crusaders pulled to within five thanks to a 70-yard Brenton Colabella to Ryan Fletcher touchdown pass. The ball was tipped by a Tomcat defender into the hands of the speedy Fletcher who covered the final 30 or so yards untouched.

Steve Daley’s crew had a shot at taking the lead, but was unable to take advantage of a key defensive stop.

“To me, our kids displayed everything we say we are: courage, character, heart and spirit,” Daley said following the heart-breaking loss. “They played for four quarters with it. I hate to see it end like this. They left it all here, no doubt about it.”

Colabella finished his record-setting Central career by throwing for 231 yards and two scores. Khalil Jones ran for 92 yards and a touchdown. He also was on the receiving end of a 48-yard scoring toss.

Daley did take time to salute his senior class, which compiled a 15-8 record during the last two seasons.

“They’re a special group,” he said. “Their goal was to get to the state championship game and they gave that kind of effort. We just came up short.

“They pushed each other to make each other better. They wanted to go out as winners. There is no doubt they contributed to getting us back on the map.”

The CCHS seniors compiled an impressive list of accomplishments including:

The school’s first season with nine wins since 2005.

The first back-to-back playoff appearances since 2004-2005.

The first 6-0 start since 1991.

The first 8-0 start since 1971.

Earning the right to host a playoff game for the first time since 2005.

Wahama earned its shot at Madonna by blasting Clay-Battelle 49-27 in first round play. The White Falcons are 10-1, the only loss coming at the hands of unbeaten Trimble (12-7).

Eliott Nero had another monster game for the Blue Dons, running for 153 yards and three scores in the victory over Tucker County. Ross Comis ran for 134 and threw for 125. Four of his 11 completions produced touchdowns. Nero had four catches for two more six-pointers.

Tyler Ewusiak and Marcello Biondillo also grabbed Comis tosses for scores.

The Blue Don defense was outstanding, holding Tucker County to 43 rushing yards and five passing stripes.

“We want to play good defense because we think that’s what wins championships,” Taylor said.

“Our offense gets a lot of the credit because of the number they’ve been able to put up but our defense played well.”

Madonna is making its seventh straight appearance in the West Virginia playoffs.

So why Dover?

There had been discussion during the weekend that Big Red’s game with Indian Valley would be played in St. Clairsville. The trip to Red Devil Stadium would be 45 miles or so for the Braves and roughly 35 for Big Red.

Instead, the Ohio High School Athletic Commission chose Dover as the neutral site. Indian Valley is about 20 miles from Crater Stadium while Big Red is looking at a 60-mile trip.

When the Herald-Star asked for an explanation, Beau Rugg, assistant commissioner of the OHSAA, responded by saying:

“While miles are a factor, time of travel is a bigger issue,” he noted. “These two sites (Dover and St. Clairsville) were the ones considered and they are both one hour and 15 minutes for one team and 30-40 minutes for the other. Steubenville had the shorter route last week and played in St. Clairsville.

“Dover also gives us more seats on the visitor side.”

More seats also mean an opportunity for more revenue for the OHSAA.

Big play guys:

There were plenty of big plays during the three playoff games of Week 12. Those worth noting include:

Central’s Jones sprinting 68 yards for the game’s first score, breaking up two passes to help stop Trimble drives, then hauling in a Colabella pass for a 48-yard score.

Devin Ferguson, Big Red’s sophomore fullback, gathering in a Lawrence-Burke pass for 17 yards to help jump-start the second scoring drive.

Madonna’s Austin Connell blocking a Tucker County punt. The ball went out of the end zone, giving the Blue Dons a safety.

Central’s Tony Barber picking off a Trimble pass off an end around play and also breaking up three passes to thwart the Tomcats. He batted away a pair just before the half, forcing Trimble to try a field goal, which went wide right.

Arin Goldsmith and William Harvey making key defensive plays on the Maysville possession prior to Big Red’s final score. Kai McClurg also delivered several critical stops for the Red.

Linebacker Stevie Maus recording a quarterback sack to help Madonna get the football back in the hands of its offense.

Louis Fallon, Stone Romano, Chris Murphy and Aleks Porreca making key tackles for the Crusader defense.

Niko Petrides and Perrier Coleman making huge catches on Big Red’s final scoring march.

Connell, Nate Martin, Ewusiak and Travis Brown all recorded QB sacks for the Blue Dons.

Fletcher getting a key interception deep in Crusader territory before hauling in the 70-yard scoring strike.

Lawrence-Burke dropped a Maysville ball carrier for a four-yard loss late in the game. Herrington also delivered a key defensive play, tipping away a Maysville pass to help ice the come-from-behind victory.

Blue’s 52-yard gallop on Big Red’s final touch of the game.

No hesitation:

Following Blue’s 2-yard TD plunge, Big Red was ready to boot the extra point and tie the game at 14. However, Maysville penetrated the neutral zone and Saccoccia quickly decided to go for two. Blue plowed up the gut to make it 15.-14.

“There was no hesitation,” Saccoccia said regarding his decision to go for two. “If we can’t get a yard and half, we don’t deserve to be here.”

Trailing 22-20 following its final score of the evening, Maysville opted to go for the tie. The Panther pass, however, was broken up.

Saccoccia noted he wasn’t surprised by the decision.

“We knew they were going for two and we had our defense ready to make a play,” he stated.