BELLAIRE - St. John Central faithful are left to wonder "what if?"
The Fighting Irish were performing quite well against visiting Valley on Saturday afternoon, only to lose their senior quarterback Dario Paolina to injury. His absence was sorely felt as the Lumberjacks went on to post a 26-0 victory.
Valley, coming off a Monday makeup game against Clay-Battelle, showed no ill effects of a short week in improving to 3-3. The Lumberjacks take on Frontier this week.
St. John's, meanwhile, dropped to 0-7 despite competing quite well. The Irish plays host to Sciotoville Community School on Saturday in a 3 p.m. start.
The Irish found themselves trailing 7-0 late in the first quarter and driving deep into Valley territory. Paolina, however, was spun hard out of bounds into the SJC bench.
He was attended to by medical personnel for some 20 minutes before being transported to a nearby hospital. It was reported he suffered a head injury, but not critical in nature.
"The last thing we needed was for our starting quarterback to go out. We were already shorthanded playing without Devon (Hennessey)," Irish coach Jeff Paolina said. "With those two seniors out, I challenged the four remaining seniors to step up. They did just that. I was proud of them."
Venerable Valley coach Tom West is well known with his penchant for a crunching ground attack. He displayed it once again Saturday, taking advantage of the Lumberjacks' noted size advantage on the lines.
The Wetzel County squad went to the air seven times but pounded out more than 260 yards on the ground. The winners fumbled the ball 10 times, amazingly losing it just once.
"Playing on Monday was no problem since we played on Saturday. We had our normal work week. We had no issues," West said. "I am not happy, however, with how many times we put the ball on the ground. That is way too many fumbles. We will have to get back to some basic drills.
"We are a real young team which was reflected in a couple of tough losses. It is time we start growing up. But I was pleased with how we ran the ball."
Valley used a five-play, 90-yard drive to tally its first touchdown late in the opening quarter, as Peyton Palmer broke loose on a 54-yard burst and then added the PAT.
The Lumberjacks used one of their four interceptions to set up their second score. Kale Lloyd pilfered the Irish aerial, giving Valley possession at the St. John 30.
On the next snap, Trey Streets took a pitch and raced untouched to paydirt. The kick failed, leaving the Lumberjacks up 13-0 at the 8:18 mark of the second period.
Valley made it a 20-0 game in the late moments of the first half via a 3-yard run by quarterback Triston Kocher. Palmer added the conversion.
The two teams played on even and scoreless terms in the second half. The Lumberjacks got a meaningless touchdown with 31 seconds remaining in the contest on a 52-yard run by Streets for a 26-0 finale.
SJC freshman Cameron Opic showed some nice flashes when forced into action at quarterback. He completed 7 of14 for 87 yards.
Opic, Quinn Myers and Jonathan Bossell also excelled defensively for SJC. Bossell also landed five passes for 69 yards.
"We are the smallest football-playing school in Ohio. But our kids keep coming back each week, doing all the things they need to do," Paolina said. "They have stayed committed and competitive. I am proud of how they have handled themselves.
"We just can't catch a break right now. But come Saturday, we will be ready for Sciotoville."