Offensive line, defense key Madonna's state semifinal double OT victory
PARSONS, W.Va. - The deck was stacked against the Madonna football team in Saturday's West Virginia Class A state championship semifinals at Class of 1984 Stadium.
The Blue Dons traveled three hours, where No. 1-seeded Tucker Valley was waiting for them, and standout running back and linebacker Nick Ossman saw limited action due to an injury sustained in last week's quarterfinal win over St. Marys.
GAME-WINNER — Weirton Madonna quarterback Ross Comis runs through a gaping hole to score the game-winning touchdown in the second overtime Saturday. The Blue Dons defeated No. 1-ranked Tucker County, 20-14, in the West Virginia Class A state semifinals. Madonna, the No. 4 seed, will meet No. 3 Wahama at 7 p.m. Saturday at Wheeling Island Stadium for the state championship.
All that, plus two overtimes, weren't enough to derail Madonna as the No. 4 seed Blue Dons topped the Mountain Lions 20-14 in double overtime to advance to the West Virginia Class A final.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game coming into Tucker County and playing the No. 1 team in the state," said Madonna head coach Doug Taylor. "They had that ranking for a reason. They were up to holding that status, but we're proud of the way our kids played. That was a long trip for us, kind of out of our habits.
"It's a great win. Madonna hasn't been to the state finals in three years, and for the last seven or eight years it's either been Williamstown, Wheeling Central or Madonna. We kept the tradition going. It's Madonna in this year."
No. 4 Madonna 20, No. 1 Tucker County 14 2OT
Madonna 7 0 7 0 0 6 - 20
Tucker 0 7 0 7 0 0 - 14
M: Nero 2 run (Green kick)
T: Zirk 1 run (Callaway kick)
M: Comis 4 run (Green kick)
T: Nestor 1 run (Callaway kick)
M: Comis 1 run
Rushing: Madonna 47-168 (Comis 27-102; Nero 18-66; Ossman 2-0). Tucker 37-60 (Zirk 11-15; Armstrong 4-12; Nestor 19-45; Snyder 1-10; Team 2-(-22)).
Passing: Madonna 11-22-138 (all by Comis). Tucker 7-25-105-x (Nestor 7-24-105-x; Zirk 0-1-0).
Receiving: Madonna 11-138 (Biondillo 3-62; Guio 1-5; Nero 4-36; Bowser 2-16; Hypes 1-16). Tucker 7-105 (Goldstein 3-37; Snyder 2-17; Armstrong 1-35; Zirk 1-16).
First Downs: Madonna 13, Tucker 7
Penalties: Madonna 6-45, Tucker 7-64.
Fumbles: Madonna 2-2, Tucker 2-2.
Tucker County had the first possession of the second overtime and faced a third-and-eight from the 18. Quarterback Derek Nestor dropped back to pass and was crushed from behind by a blitzing Eliott Nero who forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Josh Martin to end Tucker County's opportunity.
"They put me in for James Fulciniti at middle linebacker, and I had never played that before," said Nero. "They just told me to bring heat off the edge, I brought it, and luckily it came out our way."
Added Martin, "I've always wanted to touch the ball in a game, and it felt great doing it. I was so excited when I had that it didn't feel real."
Three Ross Comis runs of 9, 10, and 1 yard later and Madonna had its ticket punched to Wheeling Island Stadium.
"It felt amazing," said Comis of his scoring run. "A lot of hard work has gone into this game to get into the next one, which is our ultimate goal. It really feels surreal that we're in the state championship."
Added Martin of the offensive line, "We stepped up. We felt the pressure, but we knew as a line we had to step up. We made some mistakes in the first half, but we put it together in that second overtime."
In the first overtime, Madonna was stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and the Mountain Lions failed on a 37-yard field goal try to set up Nero, Martin, and Comis' series of heroics.
The Blue Dons had a shot to end things in regulation after a Nero punt return gave them the ball in Tucker territory with 32 seconds remaining. A trio of Comis runs put the ball at the 3 with 5.2 seconds left, setting up Matthew Green for a 19-yard field goal attempt. Unfortunately for Madonna the kick failed and Tucker took a knee with 2.2 left to send the game to overtime.
"I told the kicker don't worry about it, were going to win this in overtime," said Taylor. "I had faith in our kids. I figured we'd go out and win."
Added Comis, "I felt bad when Matt Green missed that field goal, and I told him I'd get it back, and I thought about that when I stepped in the end zone for the win."
The Blue Dons started the night's scoring thanks to a Tucker County miscue. Forced to punt, the snap flew over the head of the punter, setting up Madonna at the Mountain Lions' 22-yard line.
Nero punched in from two yards out to complete the short drive and Green put the PAT through for the 7-0 lead with 4:07 left in the first quarter.
Nero carried the load for a struggling Blue Dons' offense in the first half with eight carries for 43 yards rushing and four grabs for 34 yards.
"This is a tough football team, and you feel like you want to put the team on your back when they're struggling," said Nero. "This is the state semifinal. You want to step up for your team here."
Tucker tied things up at the 9:55 mark of the second quarter. Austin Zirk scored from 1-yard out. A 35-yard screen pass from Nestor to Zach Armstrong put the ball at the 1. The extra point was true and the game was tied at seven.
That score held at halftime thanks to the Tucker defense forcing a pair of turnovers of downs in the red zone.
Comis, who struggled in the first half, came out strong in the second half with a tackle for loss on the first play and stepped up with a pair of scores after intermission as well as some key completions and defense plays.
He led the Blue Dons on a drive that culminated with his own 4-yard rushing TD with 1:58 left in the third quarter. Garrett Hypes and Marcello Biondillo had key receptions of 16 and 22 yards respectively on the drive.
A fourth down conversion helped the Mountain Lions tie the score with 5:10 left in the game. Nestor hit Tyler Snyder for a 16-yard completion down to the 4 on fourth-and-five. Two plays later Nestor pushed in on a QB sneak and the point after tied the game at 14.
Defense spurred the Blue Dons to the victory as Tucker managed only 165 yards of offense 60 on the ground and 105 through the air. The Mountain Lions had no yards and a turnover during the overtime periods.
"Our defense held up pretty good in the overtime, as well as they did the rest of the game," said Taylor. "I thought we played pretty good defensively."
Offensively Comis had 102 yards on the ground on 27 carries with two touchdowns. 21 of those carries for 99 yards came after the first half including both TDs. He also completed 11 of 22 throws for 138 yards.
"We struggled offensively a little bit," said Taylor. "That's hats off to them. They did some things defensively that kind of screwed up our run game. We did what we needed to do to win, and that's the most important thing. It's not style points, it's about getting the W."
Madonna advances to face No. 3 seed Wahama, 10-7 winners over Magnolia, in a rematch of a regular season game from last year that saw the Blue Dons fall 33-0.
"I don't know a whole lot about them," said Taylor. "All I know is we played them last year in the regular season and they kicked our butts severely down at Fairmont State, and they must be pretty good if they beat Magnolia because that's a darn good football team. We'll do our film exchange tomorrow, take tomorrow afternoon off, and get to work."
Added Comis, "It actually feels awesome because last year Wahama put a beat down on us 33-0, and going through these playoffs I always said I wanted to play Wahama in the state championship.
"It's finally here and I want another shot at these guys."