WEIRTON - Last year when the Madonna and Steubenville Catholic Central football teams met at Harding Stadium, it turned out to be a classic. This year's renewal was a carbon copy.
The undefeated Blue Dons (8-0) came from behind with two fourth quarter touchdowns, just like they did in 2012, and escaped with a 22-17 victory last night before a packed Jimmy Carey Stadium. The loss knocked Central from the unbeaten ranks making them 8-1.
Senior wide receiver, Marcello Biondillo, leaped high over Catholic Central defensive back, Tony Barber, who had two interceptions in the game, and came down with a 28-yard pass with 38.8 seconds remaining in the game to set up Madonna's winning touchdown.
TOUGH YARDS — Weirton Madonna’s Eliott Nero gains tough yards while Catholic Central’s Marty Engle grabs his jersey during Saturday’s 22-17 Blue Dons win at Jimmy Carey Stadium.
The win likely will put the Blue Dons alone atop the West Virginia Class A rankings. They went into the game deadlocked at No. 1 with St. Marys, but the points that Madonna will add should give the Blue Dons the edge.
It was senior night for 15 of the Madonna players that have had outstanding high school careers including going all the way to the state championship game a year ago and losing by one point in overtime.
"This senior group doesn't know the meaning of the word quit," said victorious Blue Don coach Doug Taylor. "They fought back and I am so proud of all of them. That catch Marcello made there at the end was just fantastic.
Madonna 22, Catholic Central 17
SCC 14 3 0 0 - 17
Mad 8 0 0 14- 22
C: Jones 16 run (McNamara kick)
C: Fletcher 42 pass from Colabella (McNamara kick)
M: Nero 8 run (Green kick)
C: McNamara 23 field goal
M: Comis 1 run (Green kick)
M: Comis 1 run (Green kick)
RUSHING: Central 29-116-td (Jones 8-58-TD, Romano 6-41, Fletcher 4-17, Potenzini 1-2, Colabella 11-(-2)); Madonna 51-217-3td (Nero 25-118-td, Comis 23-92-2td, Shaw 3-7).
PASSING: Central 12-26-202-td-2int (all by Colabella); Madonna, 5-10-96-int (all by Comis).
RECEIVING: Central (Porreca 3-73, Jones 3-22, Fletcher 3-69-td, Murphy 1-13, DiCarlantonio 1-20, Romano 1-5); Madonna Bowser 2-30, Nero 2-33, Biondillo 1-28).
FIRST DOWNS: Central 10; Madonna 18.
FUMBLES-LOST: Central 1-0; Madonna 2-0.
PENALTIES: Central 10-77; Madonna 7-56.
"Ross (Comis) got banged up on his shoulder but played through it. And what can I say about (Eliott) Nero. I told these kids all week, listen, I've talked about the Central athletes and they're very well deserving, but I wanted to make sure that at the end of this game I was talking about our athletes because we have plenty of them."
Just like a year ago, the Crusaders jumped out to an early lead scoring two touchdowns in the first five minutes of the game. They tacked on a field goal a second before halftime to go into the locker room ahead by 17-8.
But the Blue Don defense held the potent Crusader offense to a mere 31 total yards in the second half. Record breaking Central quarterback, Brenton Colabella, who went into the game with more than 7,000 career passing yards, was limited to two second half completions in 11 attempts for a measly 7 yards. Colabella was intercepted twice.
In contrast, the Blue Don defense couldn't figure him out in the first half, though, as the Central senior completed 10 of 15 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. The Crusaders went to the intermission with 291 yards of total offense.
The Blue Dons were more consistent with 153 total yards in the first half and 160 more in the second.
"It was a tough loss for our kids," said Crusader coach Steve Daley. "I thought they played a whale of a game - both teams did. Both teams came in undefeated. Someone had to win and someone had to lose.
"We did everything we possibly could to not be the ones to lose, but there were a couple of spots there where you just have to make plays. We got the ball down close a couple of times and you have to come away with points.
"I thought they made a great play there at the end. They made a great play and we didn't make a great play. You can go back and look at different points in the game, but that's what it comes down to."
Comis, Madonna's All-State quarterback injured his shoulder on a 9-yard run that ended the first quarter. He was replaced by freshman Joey Ewusiak for the first play of the second period and returned for the rest of the game.
Comis finished with 92 rushing yards and two 1-yard quarterback sneaks for touchdowns in the fourth quarter. He finished 5 of 10 through the air for 96 yards, but had two interceptions.
Tony Barber picked off a Comis pass on the second play of the game to set up the first Crusader touchdown. Comis and his receiver weren't on the same page giving Barber an easy pick in front of the Madonna bench at the Blue Don 37-yard line.
He returned the ball to the Madonna 11 and after a 5-yard delay of the game penalty on the Crusaders, senior running back, Khalil Jones rammed through a hole on the right side for a 16-yard touchdown. John Paul McNamara booted the extra point giving Central the lead with only 59 seconds gone in the game.
After forcing Madonna to punt with its next possession, Central took over on its own 7-yard line where Colabella went to work.
He hit Jones for four yards and Aleks Porreca for 31. Stone Romano was stopped for no gain, but Colabella found Ryan Fletcher running alone on a crossing pattern. The senior gathered the ball in and raced to pay dirt in a 58-yard scoring operation. McNamara's boot put the Crusaders ahead 14-0 with the first period not yet halfway over.
"What people don't realize when playing against a team like Catholic Central that's got that many athletes it's hard to simulate that in practice," Taylor explained about the quick Crusader start. "It was the same last year in the playoff games. It takes you a quarter to a quarter and a half where you get to the point where you adjust to that team speed.
"I think our kids did well. We got caught, though, a couple of times on the inside running game, which we shouldn't have, but we got ourselves out of position. It's about getting adjusted to that speed and the tempo of the game and once we get settled in I think we're pretty darn good."
Madonna needed something to change the momentum and get into the game before it was too late.
The Blue Dons started the next series on its own 36 and seven straight running plays got them back into the game. Nero finished the drive off with a nifty 8-yard scoring run that saw him dodge through the Crusader defense for the touchdown. Matt Green's kick closed the gap to 14-8.
The Madonna defense came up big on two second quarter Crusader drives forcing Central to turn the ball over on downs at the Blue Don 4-yard line after senior Nate Guio sacked Colabella on a fourth down play.
Then, the Crusaders drove to the Madonna 5-yard line and had fourth down with 1.7 seconds left before the half. Coach Daley elected to have the sure-footed McNamara boot a 23-yard field goal giving his team the 17-8 halftime margin.
Madonna made a couple of adjustments for the second half and when senior Will Bowser intercepted Colabella for the second time in the end zone, the Blue Dons started the offense with two backs with Comis in the shotgun. All season long the Blue Dons had just Nero in the backfield with Comis.
"We've had that belly series and been practicing that since camp," Taylor said. "We thought we needed a spark in the second half. We couldn't stay in it because it was eating up way too much clock. It worked well for us.
"We didn't do it because Comis was hurt. We've had that in our arsenal for a long time."
A crucial Central mistake on a fourth down play by the Blue Dons kept the drive going.
Madonna had started the drive at it's own 35 after a Colabella punt and drove to the Crusader 13 in nine plays. Faced with a fourth and eight situation, Comis' pass was incomplete, but a roughing the passer penalty, one of 10 Crusader penalties in the game, gave the Blue Dons a first down at the Central six.
Nero, who finished the game with 118 yards, blasted to the one and Comis took it in over right guard for the touchdown. Green's kick narrowed the Central lead to 17-14.
The Crusaders went on a long drive of their own after Fletcher returned Adam Robertson's kickoff from his own 14 to the 33. The Crusaders got the ball all the way to the Madonna 14 where three Colabella passes fell incomplete.
That set up Madonn's game winning touchdown. The Blue Dons began the drive with 6:34 left in the game and they methodically moved the pigskin to the Crusader 29 where they were faced with a fourth-and-nine.
Comis scrambled around the backfield and finally flung the football toward the end zone where Biondillo leaped high over Barber for the reception that gave the Blue Dons the ball at the Central one with a first down.
"I saw that Fletcher was just sitting on a previous pass over the middle so I told coach I could beat them on an in and out," Biondillo said. "That was just an adrenalin rush. I knew I had to jump up and get the ball."
Madonna goes on the road to finish out the season starting with a visit to Toronto next Friday. The Crusaders wrap up the season next Saturday hosting a visit from Magnolia.