WEIRTON - New defensive coordinator Brad Kessel walked into this season with the Madonna Blue Dons with new everything.
And, something has clicked.
Especially in the second half of games.
SIX MORE — Weirton Madonna’s Elliott Nero tosses the ball to an official while being congratulated by teammate Will Bowser after scoring a touchdown in the first half of Saturday’s 58-12 victory over Tug Valley in the West Virginia Class A playoffs at Jimmy Carey Stadium. Madonna will host St. Marys next week.
Madonna's defense has given up 20 points in 22 second-half quarters, that included six points with under a minute to go in Saturday's 58-12 blistering of visiting Tug Valley at Jimmy Carey Stadium in the first round of the West Virginia Class A playoffs.
It gives the Blue Dons a quarterfinal date with No. 5 St. Marys next week. The date and time will be agreed upon this morning in a meeting at the WVSSAC headquarters.
Madonna gave up 14 fourth-quarter points in a Week 2 loss at Wheeling Central.
Since then, the 28-member squad only allowed Saturday's touchdown in the second half. Clay-Battelle earned a safety in the fourth quarter of the regular season finale.
That means six points in 18 quarters of second-half football.
"People have gotten more comfortable in their positions and everyone has learned to read their keys better and better as the year has gone on," said senior Garrett Hypes, who was injured in the second quarter, but is expected to be in the staring lineup next week. "It took us a couple of weeks to get used to the new system, but after everything got rolling, everybody has been playing really well and that has got us to here.
"We have great pride in our second-half defense."
That is rather obvious.
In addition to Saturday's scoreboard stranglehold on Tug Valley, the Dons held Clay-Battelle to 97 yards, Toronto to 83 yards (40 on one play) and Catholic Central to 67 yards on the ground.
"Coach Kessel teaches us well," said junior Nick Ossman. "We're in better shape and we work really hard in practice. We want to leave a legacy, playing harder than the other team, especially in the second half.
"The loss to Wheeling Central showed us that we needed to work harder. I think that loss really helped us because for the rest of the year we hadn't given up any points in the second half. That motivated us.
"Today, we expected to play hard, just like every game, and go all or nothing, just like we say before we break the huddle."
The leader of the defense, junior linebacker Travis Brown, missed the season opener against Valley with an injury.
"It was terrible that game, I couldn't keep still on the sidelines," he said. "It showed me what I do in my position, what the linebackers do, or what the defensive schemes are all about against a team that is not ours in practice.
"It shows us how it works, what changes might need to be made or what to do or what not to do. It gives you more of an understanding of your position.
"Sitting out, being on the sidelines that game gave me more of an understanding of what coach wants out of the defense, or what he wants to put into it, or how he wants to call a defense against a certain front.
"Playing defense like we have, especially in the second half, boosts our morale. It boosts our confidence and ability to play harder. It lets us come into a game and believe we are going to stop the other team, no matter what."
That happened two weeks ago against Steubenville Catholic Central, when Madonna's defense shut down the Crusaders in the second half, earning a 21-20 victory.
"It was a huge half for us," Brown admitted. "They didn't get many yards, at all, and it gave our offense an opportunity to come back and win the game."
Junior Will Bowser scored a touchdown on both sides of the ball Saturday. He intercepted a pass and took it 65 yards to the house and was on the receiving end of a Ross Comis aerial that covered 37 yards.
His defensive touchdown made it 38-6 before half and ended any doubts of the outcome.
"I had to make a play on the ball and then run as fast as I could to the end zone," said Bowser, who knocked in the game-winner in June to give the Blue Dons baseball team a state title.
"We knew they had a really good receiver in No. 27 (Corey Dillon, 6-4, 210). We were trying to shut him down. We knew our line was going to stop their run."
Bowser also pointed to the second half performance against the Crusaders as a huge moralte boost.
"It helped us tremendously because now we have that mindset that no one is going to score on us," he said.
Bowser and Comis have been mainstays in the secondary since their freshman season.
"We know what we're doing," Comis said of the secondary pair. "Will and I caught on quick with coach Kessel's defense we are able to help our teammates out.
"Coverage schemes are different. Last year we ran man every play. This year we've been able to mix it up and that makes it difficult on a team, especially a passing team. It's always different when you bring in a new coordinator.
"But, we've caught on quickly."