BELLAIRE - St. John Central has had some lean years on the football field in recent memory, to say the least.
The Irish had been looking for that one statement victory to turn the program around and get it headed back to where it used to be.
It came on a rainy Saturday afternoon in the form of a 7-6 nailbiter against Cameron at the Irish Youth Sports Athletic Complex.
"That was win No. 5 for us. I don't care what they say out there (in Columbus)," an elated first-year St. John Central coach Jason Merryman said, referring to the forfeit the Irish were forced to give to Bridgeport by the OHSAA for using an ineligible player in Week 1's 14-6 victory. "That was our fifth win, and that is huge for our kids and the program.
"I told the kids, this is the game that makes people say 'wow.' We've been trying to get that win to get us back on the map, and maybe this was it. I couldn't be any prouder of these kids."
The game featured a combined one dozen turnovers, with each team recording half-a-dozen takeaways.
The Dragons (4-5) took advantage of an Ivan Hall interception at the Dragons' 36 with a tick under 11 minutes on the second-quarter clock. On the second play from scrimmage, 6-foot-8 quarterback Logan Routt flipped a short pass in the right flat to Shane Williams. Williams broke a tackle behind the line and sped down the field for a 56-yard touchdown connection.
Mark Walker's all-important PAT was blocked by St. John Central's D.J. Shoemaker as Cameron led 6-0.
The Irish (4-5) answered quickly as Alex Francis returned the ensuing kickoff 40 yards to the Cameron 30. A Francis run for nothing and a 5-yard motion penalty left the hosts with a second-and-15. Things looked bleak after Shoemaker connected with Dario Paolina for five yards to the 30, but on third-and-10, Shoemaker lofted the ball down the left side of the field that John Alvey, running a post pattern, ran under. Alvey caught the ball at the two before being knocked into the end zone by a Cameron player. Paolina split the uprights for what turned out to be the game-winning point with 8:11 left in the half.
Neither team would reach the end zone again, but it wasn't without trying on Cameron's part. The Dragons finished with 327 yards of total offense but kept hurting themselves with four lost fumbles and a pair of interceptions.
"We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot," veteran Cameron coach Jim Rogers said. "Fumbles killed us. We're young at some key positions (on offense) and that hurt us, but we also had some holding penalties that really hurt. That's just a lack of execution ... keeping your feet moving."
St. John Central's defense used the bend-but-don't break mentality as Cameron continually drove up-and-down the field only to be thwarted by the turnover bug-a-boo.
"Our defense gave up a lot of yards, but we were very opportunistic," Merryman said. "When a big play was needed, we seemed to make it every time."
Indeed the Green-and-White did.
Recovering fumbles were Alvey, Devin Hennessey, Nick Cervelli and Kolin Melko, while Paolina and Francis picked off passes, with Francis's INT sealing the deal in the waning moments.
Merryman also praised the work of defenders Casey Opic, Kyle Whorton, Shoemaker and Gage Tiber.
"Give them credit," Rogers said of St. John Central. "They are a tough bunch, and I told our kids that all week. Jason has done a tremendous job with those kids."
Hunter Yoders led all runners with 151 yards on 21 carries. Devin Starcher added 67 on 14 totes, but neither could find the end zone. Routt completed 7 of 16 passes for 127 yards and the aforementioned TD and two INTs.
The Irish could only muster 70 yards on the ground as Shoemaker had 38 on 11 trips. He also passed for 127 yards on 11 of 20 and the TD, but played the second half with an injured throwing hand, according to Merryman. Francis had six catches for 79 stripes.
Walker had three of the four picks that Shoemaker tossed, while linebacker Waylon Miller seemed to be in on just about every tackle the Dragons made.