WEIRTON - It's a good thing Tucker County got their fill of driving during the three and a half hour bus ride to Weirton's Jimmy Carey Stadium Friday evening because once the game started the driving stopped as Madonna punished the Mountain Lions' offense on its way to a 52-0 first round playoff win.
The Blue Dons held the visitors to one first down in the opening half and three first downs over all with just one trip past midfield.
"The defense has played well all year," said Madonna head coach Doug Taylor. "We've talked about how when we get to the playoffs we'll need to step it up even higher. We truly believe, even though we put up a lot of points, our defense will win a championship.
Tyler Ewusiak and Nate Guio prepare to sack Austin Zirk during the first quarter. The Dons will play the winner of tonight’s game between Wahama and Clay-Battelle. -- Mike Mathison
"We have to play good defense the whole way through."
On an evening when Eliott Nero was nothing short of phenomenal offensively with a five touchdown effort and quarterback Ross Comis put on his usual offensive display, the defense shined as it held the Mountain Lions to just four yards of offense in the first half.
"Defense wins championships," said Gabe Hypes. "Eliott and Ross deserve a lot of credit for their play on defense.
"I think our defense is, if not the best, one of the best in the state."
With the home team leading 7-0, the Blue Dons defense set the tone on Tucker County's first drive. On second and 10, quarterback Austin Zirk was pressured into a throw that was almost picked off by Comis. The next play Zirk was sacked by linebacker Stevie Maus to force a punt.
"We were trying to stem the different fronts, come from different areas, and not give them a steady diet of blitz," said defensive coordinator Brad Kessel. "We like all three of our ends - (Austin) Connell, (Nate) Guio, and (Tyler) Ewusiak. We like how they get pressure. Inside we do a good job of pushing the pocket, and our linebackers are pretty good coming off the edge. We mixed our pressures up a bit.
"No stunting, just because they ran so much so we couldn't dial that up, but we got pressure from the edge and stayed in our lanes inside."
Madonna received a sack each from Maus, Connell, Nate Martin, Ewusiak, and Travis Brown. Ewusiak, who was joined in pressure by Guio, forced Zirk to commit an intentional grounding penalty and Connell also blocked a punt for a safety.
"Our whole defense was playing great tonight," said Ewusiak. "Our line had a great game. We were just focused on fundamentals and I think we all played well tonight."
Despite being up big at halftime there was no let down in the second half defensivelyas Tucker County found things just as tough after intermission.
"We talked about the game being 48 minutes even though we were up 31-0 at the half," said Taylor. "The defense takes pride in getting that goose egg. That was the big talk, to keep them from scoring throughout.
"They were able to accomplish that and I'm proud of them."
The players were focused on holding the shut out no matter how many points they were up during the game.
"We just tried to no let them get any yards in any situation," said Will Bowser. "First team and second team, we just tried to shut them down."
Added Hypes, "I feel we really stepped it up. We only had one goose egg before tonight against Bridgeport so I was really happy we got that tonight."
Only having one shut out is a misleading stat for the Blue Dons as their starting defense has been stingy all season.
"Our defense plays with a lot of intensity, a lot of pride, and a lot of hustle," said Kessel. "We pride ourselves on all 11 of us doing our own job every snap so if we do that we're pretty good. We were talking last week that our first team defense has only given up seven touchdowns all year, and three were against Toronto. We've played some pretty good offenses, but when we play assignment football and our attention to detail is good there's no mistake about it, we've got great athletes.
"They listen to the scheme, play within themselves, and this is as good a group of kids as I've ever been around. Not just with their ability, but with how they handle themselves as young men. It's been a pleasure and I hope it doesn't end anytime soon. Don't know if I'll ever be around another group like this."
Though the pass rush was dominant, stopping the run was the main focus entering the game, and the Blue Dons were very focused, surrendering just 43 yards on 32 rushes.
"I think we played real solid. We had a very physical game," said Brown. "They were a tough team up front with a lot of big, physical guys, but I think we handled it real well.
"We pretty much shut them down. They didn't have much movement on our up front guys."