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Madonna is ready to make playoff push

READY FOR THE STRETCH RUN — Evan Quering and the Blue Dons are in contention for a home playoff game. -- Andrew Grimm

WEIRTON — After last week’s win over Catholic Central, Madonna moved back into the top 10 in the West Virginia Class A standings and is solidly in the race for playoff spot.

Head coach Dan Rovira, however, is focused on his team continuing to win, not watching the standings.

“I don’t know where we are at in the standings, everybody asks me that question and I don’t look,” Rovira said. “I’m not worried about the playoffs until the last game of the season. But every game is a big game for us. We want to win as many games as we can.”

While his focus is staying on beating this week’s opponent, Conotton Valley, last week’s 28-7 win over the Crusaders snapped a two-game skid for the Blue Dons and puts them back in the hunt for a first round home game.

“It says a lot about our kids,” Rovira said. “I’m going to be honest, I haven’t seen a group that works so hard. We have 18, 19 guys practicing. It seems like we’re doing much better (since making a change to how the team practices due to low numbers.)

“Maybe we’re worried about the little things rather than the big picture because we only have 19, 20 kids.”

To open the postseason at Jimmy Carey Stadium, though, the Dons (5-2) have three big games left, starting with the 4-4 Rockets.

“They are almost exactly the same as last year,” Rovira said. “Offensively, they’re going to run power, they’re going to run iso, they’re going to run pro and twins. They are a run team and they are going to try and bully you.

“They do have a nice play-action game because they run the ball so much, but they have the same philosophy as they had last year.”

In that meeting last season, the Blue Dons dropped a 48-0 decision on the road. Following that setback, the 2020 Blue Dons rebounded and won their final six regular season games.

This year’s Blue Dons showed a similar ability to bounce back with the win over Central, and Rovira told them after a hard-fought defeat to Toronto two weeks ago he wanted to see a similar run going into the playoffs as last year.

“After we lost to Toronto, I told the team our goal is 4-0 (the last four weeks),” he said.

With the first part of that accomplished, Madonna has three more Ws to try to put in the win column.

Conotton Valley has one common opponent with the Dons — Catholic Central. The Rockets handed the Crusaders a 20-14 loss on Oct. 1.

The Rockets are averaging 24.5 points and allowing an average of 24.25. It also is a big game for them, as they sit 13th in Ohio Division VII, Region 27 and will be looking to lock up a playoff spot in what is their final regular-season game with the schedule differences between Ohio and West Virginia.

Conotton Valley also has wins over Strasburg-Franklin (48-8), Louisville Aquinas (24-20) and Beallsville (54-14), while its losses are to Malvern (40-12), Howard East Knox (42-16), Caldwell (21-16) and River (35-6).

One statistic about the Rockets that works in the Blue Dons’ favor is that Conotton Valley is 0-3 away from its home field in Bowerston.

The Blue Dons, meanwhile, are averaging 320.7 yards and 29.5 points per game, while allowing 233 yards and 20.5 points. Statistically, the Dons are the second-best defense in the Herald-Star/Daily Times coverage area and the fourth-ranked offense.

While senior quarterback Santino Arlia is having another big season passing, second in the area in passing with 1,396 yards and an area best 20 touchdowns, a point of emphasis the last couple weeks for Rovira’s team has been establishing a run game.

Madonna averages 232.7 of its yards per game through the air, but took a step in the right direction last week with 35 carries for 88 yards as a team, Coleton Littleton going for 32 and Seth Humberson 45.

“I didn’t realize it, but we had 35 carries against Steubenville Central,” Rovira said. “That is great. That is how you win. There is no secret to winning, stop the run and be able to run the ball. It’s simple.”

This week, the run game will get a boost with the return of two-way lineman Dominik Maple, a 236-pound sophomore that had been out with an illness.

“He just got cleared (Monday), that is another guy up front that can help us,” Rovira said. “That will help us with the run game.”

Hauling in Arlia’s aerials when the Blue Dons throw it are a couple of the area’s top receivers in Evan Quering (second with 39 catches for 667 yards and 10 touchdowns), Jonah McKay (fifth with 22 catches for 194 yards) and Michael Burdine (14 catches for 127 yards and two scores).

Following the meeting with the Rockets, the remainder of Madonna’s schedule consists of trips to Hundred (0-6) and Trinity Christian (No. 12 in Class A, 5-1).

While Saturday’s 7 p.m. kick is the Dons final regular-season home game, they certainly hope to be back on the Jimmy Carey Stadium artificial turf again in a few weeks when the playoffs open.

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