TORONTO - The message from head coach Doug Taylor to his Weirton Madonna football team was rather simple this week.
"Our game plan was to come in and throw the football," said Taylor. "We knew he (quarterback Ross Comis) wasn't going to run the football. I think, for the most part, he did a good job throwing the ball.
"Not to take anything away from Toronto, because they are well-coached and a good football team, but I thought we would get the upper hand on them with our athletes."
TEAMMATES — Weirton Madonna’s Tyler Ewusiak (11) hugs teammate Eliott Nero after Nero scored in the fourth quarter of Friday’s 41-20 victory over Toronto at Clark Hinkle FIeld.
Enter Eliott Nero.
His 66-yard punt return with 8:16 left in the game broke the Red Knights back as the Blue Dons went on to scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter for a 41-20 victory Friday evening at Clark Hinkle Field.
"We're not into moral victories," said Red Knights head coach Eric Meek, whose team finished the season at 5-5. "We were like Rocky Balboa tonight. In teh 15th round, we got knocked out. I told them, just like Rocky loves Adrian, I love this football team.
Madonna 41, Toronto 20
Madonna 0 14 6 21 - 41
Toronto 7 6 7 0 - 20
T: B. Glenn 1 run (Zdinak kick)
M: Nero 5 run (Antinone run)
T: C. Glenn 6 run (pass failed)
M: Biondillo 63 pass from Comis (kick failed)
M: Nero 2 run (pass failed)
T: B. Glenn 30 run (Zdinak kick)
M: Shaw 5 pass from Comis (Green kick)
M: Nero 66 punt return (Green kick)
M: Nero 13 run (Green kick)
RUSHING: Madonna 25-82-3 (Nero 18-72-3, Brown 2-9, Shrieve 1-1, Comis 4-0). Toronto: 32-104-3 (B. Glenn 7-60-2, C. Glenn 16-32-1, Cassella 3-5, Ross 2-4, Saner 2-2, King 2-1.
PASSING: Madonna 17-23-226-2-1x (all by Comis); Toronto 10-15-48-0-1x (all by B. Glenn).
RECEIVING: Madonna: Bowser 6-72, Biondillo 4-88-1, Nero 4-32, Guio 1-3, Ewusiak 1-26, Shaw 1-5-1. Toronto: Stewart 5-40, C. Glenn 2-(-3), Zdinak 1-5, Cassella 1-4, Tice 1-2.
FIRST DOWNS: Madonna 13, Toronto 10
PENALTIES: Madonna 4-46, Toronto 5-55
FUMBLES: Madonna 1-1, Toronto 3-0
"This was, by far, our best game of the season. I think we also played, maybe, the our best opponent of the season. We played four pretty good football teams (in losses) and I think Beallsville will also make the playoffs."
Including Madonna, Toronto's five losses were to teams headed to the playoffs - Wellsville, Catholic Central, Shadyside and Beallsville - a combined 41-7.
"I think we got better as the year went along," said Meek. "It was kind of hard to judge sometimes because we had a couple of games in there ... But, maybe those games gave us more confidence. We played a lot of young kids, but tonight was about our seniors. We are very proud of their effort. We are proud of their performance.
"We wish Madonna the best. The Madonna people have a great head football coach in Doug Taylor - and he's a better person. They ought to be very happy they have a leader like that. They have a fantastic football team.
"I said before the season I thought they were going to be the best football team on our schedule. We didn't flinch tonight. Last year we clinched from the beginning. From the first play, tonight we didn't flinch."
The Blue Dons entered the game fresh off an emotionally-draining come-from-behind victory last week against the Crusaders.
"We had a nice talk about it, but we took our two days off, celebrated those two days, then got back to work," said Dons middle linebacker and defensive leader Travis Brown. "I don't think it played into how we played tonight. The main focus is just winning the next game.
"Toronto played well tonight."
Blaze Glenn opened the scoring for a 7-0 Toronto lead with 5:33 left in the third quarter.
Nero answered with the first of his four touchdowns on a five-yard run early in the second quarter.
Chez Glenn went in from the 6 and then Comis hooked up with Marcelo Biondillo for a 63-yard yard score for a 14-13 lead at the break.
Nero scored from the 2 with 5:40 left in the third quarter and Blaze Glenn answered with a 30-yard scamper for a 20-20 score.
Comis hooked up with Dillon Shaw from the 5 with 10:32 left in the game. Then came Nero's punt return and he finished the scoring from 13-yards out with 5:31 unplayed.
"They are a tough team," Nero said of the Red Knights. "Every week is going to be a grind for us. Every team is going to give us their best shot and tonight was no different. We basically have a target on our backs and we know we're going to get the best from the other team from here on our.
"I caught the punt, saw I had some space, and my guys set up the wall. I got a huge block from I don't even know who, but I saw it out of the corner of my eye, but it was pretty huge and I knew I was gone.
"Our offensive line was huge tonight. Their pass protection was great. I can't say enough about our offensive line. They always show up to play."
Nero finished with 72 yards on 18 carries and three scores. Comis was 17-of-23 for 226 for 226 yards and two scores. He is now 65-for-102 for 1,123 yards and 11 scores.
Nero has 1,183 yards on the ground and 17 touchdowns.
"I really thought our defense played great tonight," said Meek. "Sometimes when we play a team that good, you wish it was a 36-minute game than a 48-minute game.
"I think our future here is really bright."
The Blue Dons' defense played Grinch in the second half last week against Catholic Central and held Toronto to 152 total yards.
"Defensively, we were pretty well set on what we wanted to do, but we just made some little adjustments," Brown said of leading 14-12 at half at being tied 20-20 entering the final period. "Offensively, we made some slight blocking changes. Our offensive line had a pretty good game tonight."
Madonna's defense had only given up 705 yards on the ground in eight games. It averaged surrenduring 191.2 yards and 10 points an outing.
"We took tonight's game as we were facing a good football team," said Taylor. "We knew they would come out with some emotion because it was their senior night and their defensive coordinator is going to retire and we knew they were going to play hard for him.
"Toronto had playoff aspirations and a big win against us would have catapulted them right into the mix. They were playing for some things. We had to take care of business and get out of here with a win."
That defensive coordinator is Bill Meek, father of Eric Meek.
"He is going to stay with us in a volunteer role, but he has coached for 44 years and he has been with me for all of my 18 years as a head coach," said Meek. "He's 73 and has been a huge part of my career - and my life."