WEIRTON - The first postseason opponent for undefeated Madonna is Tucker County, a team Madonna beat in the semi-final round a year ago.
The Blue Dons (No. 1) will host the Mountain Lions (No. 16) at 7:30 Friday night at Jimmy Carey Stadium. By virtue of the No. 1 seed, Madonna will play all of its postseason games at home as long as it stays alive.
The Blue Dons captured the top spot among Class A teams with a 35-6 romp against previously unbeaten Clay-Battelle last week. The Cee Bees dropped from No. 6 to No. 9 and will travel to Point Pleasant to play Wahama (No. 8) on Saturday night. Should Madonna win Friday, it will play the winner of that game.
Madonna had a monster game offensively last week against the Cee Bees piling up 539 total yards, 363 on the ground and 176 through the air.
Individually, it was the dynamic senior duo of quarterback Ross Comis and running back Eliott Nero doing most of the damage, as they have all season. Comis, who had been limited to mostly just passing the football with a sore left shoulder since the end of the first quarter of the Steubenville Catholic game, rushed for 254 yards and a touchdown while Nero gained 106 with two scores.
"It was good to get him (Comis) back to nearly 100 percent healthy," Madonna coach Doug Taylor said. " He was chomping at the bit to get back to running with the football and kept signaling in the Toronto game for us to let him run the ball, but we held to our game plan of just having him throw the ball mostly
Nero and Comis have surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground. Nero leads with 1,289 yards on 153 carries. Comis has 1,254 yards on 154 carries. Nero has scored 19 touchdowns and Comis has hit scored on 22 of his runs.
Comis has completed 75 of 116 passes for 1,299 yards and 20 touchdowns. He has been intercepted 8 times.
Nero has been on the receiving end of 19 of those passes for 244 yards and two scores while fellow senior Will Bowser is Comis' favorite target hauling in 35 of his passes for 594 yards and five touchdowns. He averages almost 17 yards per catch.
"Being able to throw the ball as well as we have over the past three ballgames has helped to diversify our offense," Taylor explained. "It loosens the opposing defense because they have to honor our receivers. The receivers are a threat. We usually are happy with the 6, 8-yard pass routes, but we have home run hitters out there, too. Bowser and Marcello Biondillo have the capability of making the big play.
A year ago, Tucker County was the top-ranked team in Class A, which forced the Blue Dons to make the nearly three-hour bus ride to Parsons in the mountains north of Elkins. Madonna was ranked fourth in 2012 with a 9-1 regular season record.
"I remember that we had the ball deep in Tucker County territory in the final seconds and worked the ball to the center of the field to give our kicker, Matt Green, a chance to win it with about a 20-yard field goal," Taylor said. "I was confident that we'd win the game right there, but he slipped on the muddy field (a snow storm had it the Parsons area as part of the Hurricane Sandy weather several days prior to the game) and missed it."
Neither team scored in the first overtime, but Nero forced a fumble on Tucker County's first play of the second overtime and Josh Martin fell on the ball.
Madonna scored in in three plays with Comis going in on an option play.
Taylor said this year's Mountain Lions look a lot like their predecessor.
"I think they lost about 14 seniors from last year while we retained quite a bit of our players," he said. "But that's a tribute to coach (A. J.) Rapp and his team for getting back into the playoffs. He (Rapp) has a system he believes in and he stays with in year in and year out."
Taylor said that in talking to Rapp at the first postseason playoff meeting in Parkersburg last Sunday he found out that ironically it was a loss to Madonna in the playoffs several years ago that he credits with making his team perennially strong.
"Rapp said that he came up here for a playoff game against one of Bob Kramer's (former successful Blue Don coach) teams of the early 2000s and got whacked," Taylor said. "On the bus ride home, Rapp said he talked to his team and told them that if they want to play with the better football teams, like Madonna, that they needed to make a commitment to the game in the off season. And they have."
Taylor said the Mountain Lions utilize much the same spread offense as his Blue Dons.
"They moved their running back of last year (Austin Kirk, (5-10, 165) to quarterback," Taylor said. "He's a senior and a very good athlete. They like to do with him a lot of the things we do with Comis. They want to get him out in space where he has the option to run or throw."
Defensively, Taylor said the Mountain Lions mostly go with the 4-3 front, but will jump into a three-man front with a lot of blitzing.
"They are not a reading type of defense," Taylor explained. "They like to pressure. They like to attack defensively and put pressure on the football and try to force mistakes."
While the offense has been explosive and most of the time down right domineering, it is the Blue Don defense that also has excelled. The defense has given up 106 points in 10 games, with several of the touchdowns coming after the Blue Don reserves were inserted late in games.
Madonna wrapped up its fifth perfect regular season in the 57-year history of football at the school.