WHEELING - Houdini reached into his hat again, but this time, it wasn't a rabbit he pulled out of his hat.
Madonna master magician Ross Comis reached into his hat and pulled out a state championship plaque.
Comis ran for 129 yards and a touchdown and completed 5 of 7 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Blue Dons to the West Virginia Class A state championship Saturday night at frigid Wheeling Island Stadium.
Madonna’s Ross Comis runs against Greenbrier West during action of the Class A title game Saturday night at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Comis made all the plays when his team needed them most.
"I call Ross Houdini," victorious coach Doug Taylor said. "Whenever we needed a play, he pulled something else out of his hat."
Whether it was avoiding a sack by tossing the ball behind his back to teammate Eliott Nero for a key first down to set up Madonna's first touchdown, or rolling out and throwing a strike to teammate Will Bowser on the third and final one, Comis was spot on when the Blue Dons needed him most.
It was that third-quarter strike to Bowser, the second touchdown hookup between the two on consecutive series that provided the Blue Dons a 21-7 cushion.
"My receivers were telling me at the half that when we were able to extend a play, they were getting open behind the Greenbrier West defense," Comis said. "I kind of took that and remembered it. When I rolled out I saw Will open in the end zone."
It was his ability to scramble that set up the play, as he rolled left and threw a perfect spiral to Bowser cut across the middle of the end zone.
"You have to give him credit, he was fast and he was able to avoid our pressure," Greenbrier West junior end Marquis Frazier said. "He's a good player, I think he's a Division I (college player). We got to him several times, we just didn't get him when we needed to a couple times. If we can get him there ..."
One series earlier, Comis threw a 43-yard touchdown pass, where he lofted the ball to Bowser, who outjumped a West defender for the ball and turned into the end zone to give the Blue Dons a 14-7 lead.
The back-to-back strikes were killer, because West had just come back to tie the game on the first series of the second half.
Madonna came out and tried a pooch kick to start the half, and it appeared to work, when Nero caught the ball in the air in West territory. However, Nero was ruled for kick catch interference because the ball didn't hit the ground.
Madonna had to re-kick from the 25 and pint-sized quarterback Malik Boatwright returned it to the Madonna 46, dragging several Blue Dons defenders along the way.
On the next play Jordan Grimmitt broke off a 34-yard run to the 11. A personal foul on Madonna on fourth-and-3 gave the Cavaliers a first down and Cory Cox scored on the next play to tie the score at 7.
After falling behind 21-7, West fought back, with Boatwright going in from the 1 to cap a 12-play, 58-yard drive, making it 21-14.
The Cavaliers seemed to be gaining momentum.
On third-and-5, they had Comis sacked. He never went down, and a West player came in late to finish off the play. However, the whistle had blown the play dead before he arrived.
"I heard the whistle, and we got there a bit late," West coach Lewis McClung said. "It wasn't anything malicious on the part of our guy. That kid is hard to bring down, and he thought he was doing the right thing. Things kind of snowballed from that point."
Indeed they did. Another personal foul and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty set up Matthew Green for a 22-yard field goal (the Blue Dons only field goal of the season) to give Madonna a 24-14 lead with 6:12 remaining.
They rode out the defense from that point.
Madonna led 7-0 at the half, the lone touchdown set up by a SportsCenter Top 10-type play from Comis.
He appeared to be sacked by Greenbrier West's Cody Loudermilk but he somehow flipped the ball to Nero, who picked up a first down.
Moments later Comis scored from a yard out.
"Me and Ross, we just have a sense," Nero said. "I saw him in trouble, and I went to a spot and he got me the ball."
"That's the way we operate," Comis said. "I was getting taken down, I kind of saw Eliott there. I just knew that's where he was."
Houdini pulling another trick out of his bag of many tricks.
The victory helped erase the sting of losing in last year's final was obvious.
"This means everything to me," said Nero, choking up with emotion. "I can't even describe it. We worked for this moment since we walked off last year on the other side (falling to Wahama 42-41 in overtime). To be here right now, with these guys, it's everything we wanted."
It was the completion of a journey for Taylor and his team.
"We (Taylor and his coaching staff) were sitting in the office after we finished No. 1 and earned that top seed and we said if things go our way and we stay healthy, we have a shot. And we did it."
For West (12-2) is was a bitter loss, though the Cavaliers proved they belonged in the final.
"We gave it our best shot," Boatwright said. "They have a good team but I think they realized they were in a game. It's just really disappointing to finish so close."
Madonna can relate.