By RALPH COX
For the News-Register
WEIRTON - Last year when the Madonna and Steubenville Catholic football teams met at Harding Stadium, it turned out to be a classic. This year's renewal was a carbon copy.
Madonna’s Elliott Nero (26) drags two Steubenville Catholic defenders with him as he fights his was downfield at Jimmy Carey Stadium on Saturday
The undefeated Blue Dons (8-0) came from behind with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, just like they did in 2012, and escaped with a 22-17 victory Saturday night before a packed Jimmy Carey Stadium. The loss knocked Central from the unbeaten ranks making them 8-1.
Senior receiver Marcello Biondillo leaped high over Catholic Central defensive back Tony Barber, who had two interceptions in the game, and came down with a 28-yard pass with 38.8 seconds remaining to set up Madonna's winning touchdown.
The victory likely will put the Blue Dons alone atop the West Virginia Class A rankings. They went into the game deadlocked at No. 1 with St. Marys, but the points that Madonna will add should give the Blue Dons the edge.
It was Senior Night for 15 of the Madonna players that have had outstanding high school careers including going all the way to the state championship game a year ago and losing by one point in overtime.
"This senior group doesn't know the meaning of the word quit," Madonna coach Doug Taylor said. "They fought back and I am so proud of all of them. That catch Marcello made there at the end was just fantastic.
"Ross (Comis) got banged up on his shoulder but played through it. And what can I say about (Eliott) Nero. I told these kids all week, listen, 'I've talked about the Central athletes and they're very well deserving, but I wanted to make sure that at the end of this game I was talking about our athletes because we have plenty of them.' "
The Crusaders jumped out to an early lead scoring two touchdowns in the first five minutes of the game. They tacked on a field goal a second before halftime to go into the locker room ahead by 17-8.
But the Blue Dons defense held the potent Crusader offense to a mere 31 total yards in the second half. Record-breaking Central quarterback, Brenton Colabella, who went into the game with more than 7,000 career passing yards, was limited to two second-half completions in 11 attempts for 7 yards. Colabella was intercepted twice.
In contrast, the Madonna defense couldn't figure him out in the first half, though, as the Central senior completed 10 of 15 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. The Crusaders had 291 yards of total offense at halftime.
The Blue Dons were more consistent with 153 total yards in the first half and 160 more in the second.
"It was a tough loss for our kids," Crusaders coach Steve Daley said. "I thought they played a whale of a game - both teams did. Both teams came in undefeated. Someone had to win and someone had to lose.
Comis, Madonna's All-State quarterback, injured his shoulder on a 9-yard run that ended the first quarter. He was replaced by freshman Joey Ewusiak for the first play of the second quarter and returned for the rest of the game.
Comis finished with 92 rushing yards and two 1-yard sneaks for touchdowns in the fourth quarter. He finished 5 of 10 through the air for 96 yards, but had two interceptions.
Tony Barber picked off a Comis pass on the second play of the game to set up the first Crusaders touchdown. Comis and his receiver weren't on the same page, giving Barber an easy pick in front of the Madonna bench at the Blue Dons 37-yard line.
He returned the ball to the Madonna 11 and after a 5-yard delay of the game penalty on the Crusaders, senior running back Khalil Jones rammed through a hole on the right side for a 16-yard touchdown. After forcing Madonna to punt with its next possession, Central took over on its own 7-yard line where Colabella went to work.
He found Ryan Fletcher running alone on a crossing pattern in which Fletcher raced to pay dirt in a 58-yard scoring operation.
"What people don't realize when playing against a team like Catholic Central that's got that many athletes it's hard to simulate that in practice," Taylor said.
Madonna needed something to change the momentum and get into the game before it was too late.
The Blue Dons started the next series on their own 36 and seven straight running plays got them back into the game. Nero finished the drive off with a nifty 8-yard scoring run that saw him dodge through the Crusader sdefense for the touchdown. Matt Green's kick closed the gap to 14-8.
Madonna made a couple of adjustments for the second half and when senior Will Bowser intercepted Colabella for the second time in the end zone, the Blue Dons started the offense with two backs with Comis in the shotgun. All season long the Blue Dons had just Nero in the backfield with Comis.
A crucial Central mistake on a fourth down play by the Blue Dons kept the drive going.
Madonna had started the drive at its 35 after a Colabella punt and drove to the Crusader s13 in nine plays. Faced with a fourth-and-8, Comis' pass was incomplete, but a roughing the passer penalty, one of 10 Crusaders penalties in the game, gave the Blue Dons a first down at the Central 6.
Nero, who finished the game with 118 yards, blasted to the one and Comis took it in over right guard for the touchdown.
The Crusaders went on a long drive of their own after Fletcher returned Adam Robertson's kickoff from his own 14 to the 33. The Crusaders got the ball all the way to the Madonna 14 where three Colabella passes fell incomplete.
That set up Madonn's winning touchdown. The Blue Dons began the drive with 6:34 left and they methodically moved the ball to the Crusaders 29 where they were faced with a fourth-and-9.
Comis scrambled around the backfield and finally flung the football toward the end zone where Biondillo leaped high over Barber for the reception that gave the Blue Dons the ball at the Central one with a first down.