ZANESVILLE - Saturday night at Zanesville's Sulsberger Memorial Stadium was heartbreaking for the Steubenville Catholic Central Crusaders, losing 27-22 to the Trimble Tomcats.
Before they were broken though, the Crusaders showed everyone in attendance the size of those hearts.
"Our kids, to me, tonight, displayed everything we say we are - courage, character, heart, and spirit," said Central head coach Steve Daley. "They played for four quarters with it."
During a first half that saw the Tomcats claim a 14-7 lead at intermission, the Crusaders defense found themselves up against a wall with four Trimble possessions starting on the Central half of the field. On those four possessions the Tomcats managed just one touchdown with Tony Barber and Ryan Fletcher picking off passes and the second quarter ending with a missed field goal.
"The defense played great," said Daley. "They held us in there as long as they could, and they fought, scratched and clawed their way, and we were finally able to make some connections for some big plays later."
Trimble seemed to have complete control of the game in the fourth quarter after a 13-play drive gave them a 27-15 lead and then an interception gave them the ball at their own 23-yard line.
The Tomcats proceeded to go right back to driving down the field, and six plays later they found themselves celebrating as they went to the sideline during a timeout before a fourth and four play from the Crusaders 27.
"I don't mean to take a shot at anybody, but I think they thought the game was over with five minutes left," said Daley. "Our kids sure as heck didn't quit. They weren't going to give up."
And give up they didn't.
The Tomcats picked up the first down on the next play, but turned the ball over on downs four plays later and then Central's quick-strike offense made it a one score game with a 70-yard tip-drill completion from Brenton Colabella to Fletcher that made it a one-score game at 27-22.
Though Trimble found success in the second half with their rushing attack, the Crusaders showed they still had a lot in the gas tank with a three-and-out after Khalil Jones broke up a third down pass play.
"They were digging down, just digging down," said Daley. "We pride ourselves on our conditioning. I think that came through there. That's something we've worked on all season long.
"We were still running sprints Tuesday this week. That's where that pays off."
Central moved into Trimble territory with the help of a pass interference call and a nine-yard completion from Colabella to Aleks Porecca, but the rally ended with a fumble on the next play and Central's season was over with the loss.
"We still had a chance at the end there," said Daley. "They're just a great group of kids. You hate to see it end like this tonight. They left it all here, no doubt about it."
The young men in blue and gold showed everyone how much heart they had Friday night, and no group better exemplified the Crusaders traits of courage, character, heart, and spirit than the group of seniors that led them on to the field.
The group started their careers as freshmen with a nine-loss season only to come full circle to end their careers with a nine-win season and having been a part of two playoff appearances.
"They're a special group," said Daley. "I hate to see it end for them. Their goal was to get to the state championship game. They gave that kind of effort today. We just came up short.
"They pushed each other. They made each other better each and every day. They wanted to go out as winners, they wanted to contribute to getting us back on the map, and I think they definitely did that."