STEUBENVILLE - In a game filled with big plays, Oak Glen's Jeff Hissam had the one that made the difference.
The speedy senior returned a punt 64 yards for a score late in the third quarter and the Golden Bears went on to register a 35-27 victory over Catholic Central Saturday at Harding Stadium.
"He's as deadly as a kick returner as I have probably ever coached," Tony Filberto said. "That was his fifth one for a touchdown. The kid has exceptional speed, great field vision and balance. He did a great job and that return probably was a big difference in this football game."
Central's Steve Daley added "we preached all week - don't kick to him. The one time we did, he hurt us. He got his chance and he took advantage of it."
With the victory, Oak Glen moves to 8-1 on the season. The Crusaders stand at 3-6. The Golden Bears will close the season at Magnolia while Central travels to LaBrae.
The two offenses put on quite a show during the evening, combining for 735 yards. Oak Glen had 351 (328 on the ground) while Central finished with 284. The Crusaders racked up 307 stripes through the air but finished with negative rushing yardage.
"We were awfully good offensively tonight," Filberto noted. "We had three nice passes called back but overall, we did well offensively."
Lucas McDowell, Oak Glen's hard-running senior quarterback, was way beyond "awfully good." He toted the pigskin 35 times for 275 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Dylan Davis wasn't bad either, getting 63 stripes on just 13 trips and scoring twice.
"It's a shame to say but that is what we expect of Lucas," Filberto commented. "We put the ball in his hands 34 times and he broke a couple of big ones. He's an awfully good football player. I wish we would have moved him to quarterback during his freshman season. This is first year in the position and he has done a good job.
"Our kids blocked well up front and Davis did a good job of securing the ball and getting the yardage when we needed him."
Daley was quick to agree with Filberto's assessment of McDowell.
"He is a heck of a player, he is quick and physical," Daley said. "Hats off to him, when you have a kid like that in that style of offense, it's hard to stop."
Oak Glen recorded the game's first score when Davis plowed over from the five. The conversion kick was blocked. The scoring drive covered 92 yards. Due to penalties, however, Oak Glen actually traveled 108 stripes for the touchdown.
Central went up 7-6 when Jimmy Panella powered in from a yard away. Doug Maslowski nailed his extra point boot. Oak Glen would answer immediately, going 50 yards in seven plays. Davis scored again, this time from eight yards out. McDowell bulled his way in for the two-pointer.
On the possession before its first score, Central put together an outstanding march, moving from its own 24 to deep in Oak Glen territory. On third and goal from the four, Brenton Colabella hit Michael Carapellotti for an apparent touchdown. The Crusaders, however, were hit with a pass interference call. The penalty moved the football back to the 19. On fourth down, Colabella found Zack Herrington for what also appeared to be a score. Unfortunately, again, a penalty nullified the effort.
"Having those two touchdowns called back, that was big," Daley admitted. "Really that and the punt return were the differences in the game. It was back and forth after that."
Hissam's punt return made it 21-7 Oak Glen, but Central came right back. The Crusaders traveled 80 yards in 12 plays, Herrington getting the score when he went up and grabbed a Colabella pass in the end zone. Maslowski again nailed the extra point.
Once again, however, the Golden Bears answered. McDowell capping a 49-yard march with his first score of the night. Central cut the margin to 28-21 when Herrington and Colabella connected again, this time from four yards away.
McDowell put Oak Glen on the board with his big play of the night, motoring 62 yards to the house. Weltner's kick made it 35-21.
The Crusaders still weren't ready to go away. Brannt Pieniazek turned in a huge play when he grabbed a Colabella pass away from an Oak Glen defender, then dragged the same defender forward about 15 yards for a touchdown. The score was third in a span of 1:30. The pass and run covered 49 yards.
Earlier in the drive, Colabella hit Jon Emmerling for 33 yards.
Colabella finished the night 23 of 34 for 307 yards and three touchdowns. Pieniazek has seven grabs for 99, Emmerling five for 83, Herrington five for 58, Carapellotti three for 33 and Panella three for 35.
"That was a heck of a play by Brannt to get into the end zone," Daley said. "He has been giving us that kind of effort all year. The overall effort by our kids tonight was outstanding, they played their hearts out. We just came up short."
The defense recorded seven sacks for Oak Glen. Central finished with a negative 23 rushing yards on 28 tries.
"We handled the run," Filberto said. "This is the first time anyone has attempted to throw on us since Week 1 against Edison. Maybe it was good eye-opener for us regarding the need to get better in our secondary."
Daley was pleased with the way his offense played; however, he knew his defense didn't a few more stops.
"Had we gotten one or two more stops, it could have been different," he noted. "Hats off to them, they're a good ball club; they're looking at the playoffs coming up."