WEIRTON - Football coaches like to stress how important it is to take advantage of what other teams give them.
On Saturday at Jimmy Carey Stadium, Wheeling Central gave Madonna a lot and the Blue Dons made the visitors pay in posting a 42-7 victory.
Madonna's four first-half scores came following Maroon Knight turnovers and a special teams mistake. During the first 24 minutes, Central lost two fumbles, had two passes picked off and committed a costly penalty, nullifying a 38-yard pass completion.
"They (Madonna) played outstanding and jumped on us early, said Central's Mike Young. "Our four turnovers in the first half definitely increased their effort. It was a rough night but they played great. Hats off to them and their coaches.
"They handled us up front. It wasn't just the mistakes. But you can't have four turnovers and major penalties against a good football team."
Central's first turnover (a fumble) came after a fourth down conversion set up a first and 10 at the Madonna 40. Defensive tackle Josh Martin fell on the loose pigskin for the Blue Dons.
Doug Taylor's club took advantage, marching 60 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown. Following a three-and-out by the Blue Don defense, Elliot Nero took the Central punt 58 yards, setting up Madonna's second score.
"I kind of bobbled the ball around a little before catching it," Nero reflected. "We set up a nice wall and I just went off to the races. I didn't score but it was a huge play for us."
Nero also had a huge night running the football, collecting 132 yards on 17 trips and recording a touchdown.
"Hats off to our offensive line," he said. "I give all the credit to them."
Central coughed up the football on its next drive, Grant Retton making the recovery. That turnover produced another Madonna score Will Bowser recorded an interception to stop another Maroon Knight drive. Then Travis Brown followed Bowser's lead with his game-changing pick.
"Our coach had us lined up right and knew the formation they running," Bowser said of his interception. "I was in the right spot and just had to get up there and get it."
Down 21-0, the visitors moved to the Madonna 14. On fourth and six, Brown stepped in front of a Parker Henry pass and zoomed down the field. He made it to the Central five before being dragged down from behind.
Brown, who had an interception during the 2012 season, said he wanted to score "real bad" on his interception return.
"I was running out of steam at the end, but I was trying," he admitted. "We had a lot of pressure on the quarterback and I was just taking my steps and dropping into my zone. The ball just kind of floated to me and my first thought was to take it to the house."
Madonna increased its lead to 28-0 a play later, quarterback Ross Comis finding the house.
The Knights weren't done giving in the first half. They launched another drive but it stalled out after an ineligible receiver downfield penalty nullified a 38-yard play completion.
"There's no doubt the turnovers had a lot to do with it," Taylor stated. "One time they were in the red zone and were ready to score on us and we get an interception. Then, we were able to convert that turnover into points. Anytime you can do that, it's big.
"That punt return was huge too. I think we definitely won the special teams battle tonight."
Madonna finished the night with 409 offensive yards compared to 180 for Central. Comis ran for 103 and four scores while passing for 136 more and another touchdown. He and Bowser hooked up for a 55-yard scoring strike.
"It definitely feels good to beat Central," Comis stated. "It's another stepping stone on our way to return to the Island and winning a championship. We wanted to make a statement that last year was definitely not a fluke. We're back and we're hungry."
Bowser called Comis "a great quarterback."
"He puts it up there for me and trusts me to catch it," Bowser added.
Brown, one of the Madonna seniors who lost to Central the past two years, said the victory "feels amazing. This is such a great feeling."
"This is the first time we have beaten them in three years, it just feels awesome," he said.