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Blue Dons feeling Lucky

Madonna hangs on, utilizes special teams to defeat Catholic Central, 34-28

Madonna's Lucky Pulice returns a blocked punt for a touchdown against Catholic Central on Saturday. Also shown are Madonna's Joseph Soos, left, and Evan Daniels, along with Central's Andrew Dorsey and Tyler Ialenti. -Joe Catullo

STEUBENVILLE — Madonna left town Saturday thanking its lucky stars (or in this case, Lucky Pulice) following an exciting 34-28 victory over Catholic Central inside Harding Stadium.

Pulice returned one Crusader punt for a score, set up another Blue Don touchdown with a long punt return and caught what proved to be the game-winning six-pointer, as Dan Rovira’s club snapped a two-game losing streak by spoiling Central’s homecoming.

“We needed a win, we lost the last two games to really tough opponents and we just needed a win,” Rovira said after Madonna topped its cross-river rival for the first time in seven seasons. “Our kids really came through tonight.

“I just wish we could become a more mentally tough when things go wrong. It seems like when things go wrong, they get their heads down and I cannot get them up. I don’t know why, but that is something we need to figure out. But, tonight they hung in there, and that’s all that matters.”

The Blue Dons (2-2) got on the board with 5:47 left in the opening period when Pulice went 57 yards with a Central punt that was partially blocked. He then grabbed the 2-point conversion pass from Santino Arlia.

Madonna quarterback Santino Arlia attempts a pass over Catholic Central's Nathaniel Stark on Saturday. -Joe Catullo

Seth Humberson found the end zone from 5-yards away on Madonna’s next possession. This time, Arlia hooked up with Thomas Sessi for the conversion.

Pulice delivered again after the Madonna forced a Central punt. He grabbed the ball at his own 37 and raced to the Crusader 3 before being knocked out of bounds. The Dons were guilty of two straight penalties before Arlia scrambled for 8 yards to the Crusader 5. From there, Sessi scored the third Blue Don touchdown of the opening quarter.

“I learned the importance of special teams during my time coaching with Eric Meek,” Rovira said. “I used to not care about special teams, but he would stress the need to work on them every day because sooner or later that work pays off. It did for us tonight.”

The second quarter belonged to the Crusaders, who remain winless in five tries. Their first score came on a 1-yard run by quarterback Ryan Gorman and capped a 62-yard drive. On their next possession, Central traveled 48 yards. This time, Isaiah Mullins did the honors from 12-yards away.

Madonna made it 30-14 midway through the third when Arlia connected with Michael Burdine for a 23-yard touchdown. The scoring toss came on a 4th-and-15 play.

Madonna's Thomas Sessi jukes his way past Catholic Central's Isaiah Mullins, left, and Jerome Coniker on Saturday. -Joe Catullo

Anthony Agresta’s Crusaders immediately answered, going 68 yards. The touchdown came on an 11-yard pass from Gorman to Primo Toriscelli.

With 5:34 left to play, Arlia worked some fourth-down magic again, finding Pulice for a 17-yard score. The 4th-and-14 conversion capped a 63-yard Blue Don scoring march.

The game’s final score came on a 7-yard run by Mullins. Central marched 58 yards with the key play being a 37-yard pass from Gorman to Ryan Anderson.

“Look, there are three phases to this game — offense, defense and special teams,” Central’s Agresta said. “Special teams cost us the football game — it’s as simple as that. I thought we did what we wanted to do with our running game and when we chose to throw it, we took advantage of things they were giving us in the passing game.

“Defensively, minus two fourth-down passes that they threw into coverage and I thought we should have come down with, we played pretty well. At the end of the day, it’s this: Madonna’s quarterback is a confident kid who gives his receivers a chance to make plays. He did that tonight. My hat is off to Madonna. They did what they needed to do to win.”

Catholic Central's Nathaniel Stark tackles Madonna's Coleton Littleton with Isaiah Mullins closing in on Saturday. -Joe Catullo

Arlia completed 12 of his 19 passing attempts for 155 yards and the two scores. Pulice was on the receiving end of five Arlia aerials.

“The touchdown passes were great, but I was more proud of him for throwing it away when nothing was there,” Rovira said of his junior gunslinger. “In the last couple of games, we have thrown too many interceptions, and we are just not that good on defense to stop people. Tonight, he didn’t try to force things.”

Madonna also was able to compile 84 yards on the ground, a statistic that made its first-year coach happy.

“I want to run the ball. I really want to run the ball,” Rovira said. “Everyone says I’m a liar because I keep throwing the ball, but I want to run the ball.

“It takes the pressure off your quarterback and it keeps the clock running. In high school, college or pro, you have to run the ball. We did a better job of that tonight.”

Mullins had a huge offensive night for Central, toting the pigskin 23 times and collecting 154 yards. Gorman completed 9 of his 15 passing attempts for 116 yards. Toriscelli and Vince Carapellotti had three catches each.

“It just stings right now,” Agresta said. “This is one we felt we should have got, and we didn’t get it. So, it hurts right now.”

UP NEXT

Madonna: After opening with four on the road, it finally will get a home game this week, entertaining Morgantown Trinity Saturday at Jimmy Carey Stadium. The kick is set for 7 p.m.

Central: Will play Toronto Friday at Harding Stadium. The game originally was to be played in Toronto but was moved to accommodate more fans.

Madonna 34, Catholic Central 28

Madonna 22 0 6 6 — 34

Central 0 14 7 7 — 28

MADONNA — Pulice 57 punt return (Pulice pass from Arlia)

MADONNA — Humberson 10 run (Sessi pass from Arlia)

MADONNA — Sessi 5 run (pass failed)

CENTRAL — Gorman 1 run (Bolster kick)

CENTRAL — Mullins 12 run (Bolster kick)

MADONNA — Burdine 23 pass from Arlia (run failed)

CENTRAL — Toriscelli 11 pass from Gorman (Bolster kick)

MADONNA — Pulice 17 pass from Arlia (pass failed)

CENTRAL — Mullins 7 run (Bolster kick)

RUSHING: Madonna 35-84-2 (Sessi 9-30-1; Arlia 13-(-7); Littleton 8-24; Humberson 5-37-1); Central 32-168-3 (Mullins 23-154-2; Gorman 7-2-1; Dorsey 2-12).

PASSING: Madonna 12-19-155-2 (all by Arlia); Central 9-15-116-1 (all by Gorman).

RECEIVING: Madonna 12-155-2 (Pulice 5-39-1; Sessi 1-42; Burdine 3-42-1; Littleton 1-2; Humberson 2-13); Central 9-116-1 (Carapellotti 3-24; Mullins 1-12; Toriscelli 3-28-1; Dorsey 1-15; Anderson 1-37).

FIRST DOWNS: Madonna 16; Central 12.

PENALTIES-YARDS: Madonna 3-30; Central 11-81.

PUNTS: Madonna 2-23; Central 5-16.

FUMBLES-LOST: Madonna 0-0; Central 1-1.

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