ZANESVILLE - Steubenville Catholic gave top-seeded Trimble all it could handle in Saturday's Division VII, Region 25 semifinal at John D. Sulsberger Stadium. In the end, however, the Crusaders came up five points short.
The Tomcats, who had allowed 33 points coming into the contest, escaped with a 27-22 victory thanks to a fumble recovery inside their own territory with a little more than a minute to play.
With the victory, Trimble, 12-0, moves into this week's regional title game opposite second-seeded Shadyside. Steubenville Catholic drops the curtain at 9-3.
"To me, our kids displayed everything we say we are: courage, character, heart and spirit," Steubenville Catholic coach Steve Daley said. "They played for four quarters with it. I hate to see it end like this . They left it all here, no doubt about it."
Following a 1-yard touchdown run by Trimble quarterback Konnor Standley early in the fourth quarter, Steubenville Catholic found itself trailing 27-15. Following a stop by its defense, CCHS climbed right back into the game.
Starting at their 18, the Crusaders needed two snaps to score as Brenton Colabella hit Khalil Jones on the first play. Then, Colabella tossed one down the sideline to Ryan Fletcher and the pass was tipped by a Trimble defender and fell into Fletcher's hands. The pass and run covered 70 yards. John Paul McNamara's kick pulled Steubenville Catholic within five with a little more than three minutes left to play.
The defense responded again, forcing Trimble's high-powered offense into a three-and-out (Jones tipped away a Standley pass on third and long). The Crusaders had one last chance, starting at their 37.
A pass interference call against the Tomcats moved the ball to Trimble's 47 and Colabella hit Aleks Porreca for 9 yards. On third-and-1, the senior quarterback scrambled for an apparent first down, but he lost control of the ball and the Tomcats recovered to seal the deal.
""I think they (Trimble) thought the game was over with five minutes left," Daley said. "Our kids never quit and they didn't give up. We still had a chance at the end. They are just a great group of kids."
Steubenville Catholic actually struck first, Jones sprinting 68 yards on the game's opening possession. McNamara's conversion kick gave the Crusaders an early 7-0 lead.
Trimble took the lead for good at the 6:12 mark of second quarter, going 39 yards in eight plays as Justice Jenkins scored from 8 yards out. The positive field possession came after the Tomcats defense forced Steubenville Catholic to punt from its end zone.
The Tomcats had four-first half possessions inside CCHS territory, coming away with just one touchdown, a missed field goal and two interceptions (Tony Barber and Fletcher). On the drive leading to the missed FG, Barber made two outstanding plays against Austin Downs, Trimble's leading receiver, in the end zone.
"Our defense played great," Daley added. "They held us in there as long as they could. They fought and scratched the whole night. We finally started to make some connections on offense and were able to make a couple of big plays. It's just unfortunate that we ran out of time there at the end."
Trimble opened the second half by marching 74 yards for a score as Standley snuck in from a yard out.
Steubenville Catholic came right back, moving 65 yards in two plays. Following a pass interference call on Trimble, Colabella threw a perfect ball to a streaking Jones down the sideline. The pass and catch covered 48 yards. Chris Murphy, the Steubenville Catholic holder on conversion tries, then hit Fletcher for a 2-point conversion.
When discussing his defense's ability to make two crucial stops late in the game, Daley simply said it was his team "just digging down."
"We take pride in conditioning, that came through," he added. "That's something we worked on all-season long. We never stopped and that's where that effort pays off."
Colabella concluded his record-setting Steubenville Catholic career by throwing for 231 yards and a pair of scores. He ended his senior year with 2,019 passing yards. Fletcher grabbed two passes for 131 and Jones had three catches for 63.
Jones also ran for 92 yards on just seven trips.
Steubenville Catholic's senior class earned trips to the playoffs the last two seasons, compiling a 15-8 record.
"They're a special a group and I hate to see it end this way," Daley said. "Their goal was to get to the state championship game and they gave that kind of effort. We just came up short.''