WEIRTON - Offenses put fans in the stands, defenses win championships or at least instant classics.
Catholic Central torched Madonna's defense for two scores during the first seven minutes Saturday. The Blue Don D then slammed the door the rest of the way.
The result - Doug Taylor's club earned a thrilling 22-17 come-from-behind victory before a standing room only crowd at Jimmy Carey Stadium.
Tony Barber had two interceptions Saturday.
"Our defense played tough," a jubilant Taylor said. "What people don't understand is when you are playing against a team like Central with that many athletes, it's hard to simulate that in practice.
"It takes a quarter or a quarter and a half to adjust to that kind of speed. Once we got settled in, I think we were pretty darn good."
During the opening half, the Crusaders rolled to 291 yards of offense (195 passing and 96 via the ground). Steve Daley's club compiled 142 first quarter stripes. Madonna's defense held Central to just 31 second half yards.
"We made very minimal adjustments defensively in the second half," Taylor stated. "Our defense just hung tough and made some plays."
After the two quick scores, Central could manage just a 23-yard John Paul McNamara field goal right before the half. The Crusaders' bid for a third six-pointer was thwarted thanks to a Gabe Hypes sack of Brenton Colabella.
Madonna's Will Bowser recorded two interceptions (the first killing a Central threat in the first half and the second stopping an early third quarter march).
"We knew we needed to stop the run and the pass," Bowser noted. "We did a good job of adjusting at halftime. We had some mistakes in the beginning and the game might have been different without them.
"They are pretty quick but we kept up. The win feels good; it was the same kind of game as last year (Madonna rallied for a 21-20 victory in 2012)."
The Madonna defense delivered a huge stop just before the offense began what proved to be the game-winning drive.
Central drove from its own 33 to the Blue Don 15. The march was aided by three Madonna penalties good for 35 yards. After Ryan Fletcher gained a pair on first down, good coverage by the Blue Don secondary produced three incompletions.
"When you take that many penalties and end up keeping them out of the end zone, that's huge," Taylor said. "When you are not dealing with the entire field and you can condense things down to 20 yards that makes it easier on your defense.
"This senior group doesn't know the meaning of the word quit. I talked about their athletes all week but I wanted to make sure at the end of the game, I was talking about our athletes because we have plenty of them."
After the final Blue Don touchdown, the defense delivered two sacks (one by Tyler Ewusiak and the other by Josh Martin) to preserve the victory.
"We pulled through and our defense did a really good job tonight," Ewusiak noted. "We pulled our heads together in the second half; we were kind out of it in the first half. We were able to get a lot of pressure on their quarterback."
As Martin put it, the Madonna defense did step up, but "that's expected of us."
"We do it every week," he continued. "We've only allowed six touchdowns on the first team defense. It was the same thing as last year.
"Our defense stepped up in the second half.
The senior two-way tackle added Central's early success "didn't surprise" him.
"They have a high scoring offense and I expected it from them. They are a good team. The sack felt pretty amazing. I had a lot of adrenaline pumping. As soon as I saw him (quarterback Colabella), I grabbed whatever I could and just fell down.
"A lot of people didn't expect us to win. It really hits home to see this stadium packed on all sides and all around. It feels great to see that much support in this town."
Central's defense wasn't without some memorable moments of its own. Sophomore defensive back Tony Barber picked off two Ross Comis passes His first led to the initial Crusader score.
After recording 115 yards in the first quarter, Madonna was held to just 38 in the second. Louis Fallon, Marty Engle, Chris Murphy and Stone Romano all delivered big defensive plays for the Crusaders.
Central's efforts on both sides of the ball, however, were hampered by penalties.
On its opening drive of the third quarter (set up by a 50 yard Khalil Jones kickoff return), Central had first and goal at the Madonna 10. A major penalty pushed the ball all the way back to the 30. A Bowser pick ended the threat.
Daley's club also drew two flags on its second touch of the half. Central appeared to have Madonna stopped on what ended up being its second scoring drive of the night following a sack by Fallon and Engle and a fourth down incompletion. The officials, however, hit the visitors with a 15-yard roughing the passing call.
Central finished with 10 penalties for 77 yards and Madonna seven for 56.
"It was a tough one for our kids," said Daley, who chose not to talk about the penalties. "Both teams played a whale of a game.
"You have to make plays when they are there. They made a play and we didn't. With both teams coming in undefeated, someone had to win and someone had to lose. We did everything we could not to be the team to lose."