St. John Central celebrated Homecoming Saturday afternoon under ideal conditions at the Junior Irish Sports Complex in South Bellaire.
And while the game didn't end the way the Irish faithful would have liked, head coach Paul Rose was upbeat.
"There were a lot of positives out there today," Rose said after watching his team drop a 39-21 verdict to visiting Valley (2-5) on the sun-drenched Alumni Field sod. "A couple of plays here and there trigger putting our defense back out on the field, which is troublesome for us."
ST. JOHN’S Nick Cervelli rips off a chunk of yardage through the Valley defense during Saturday’s game in Bellaire. The Lumberjacks prevailed, 39-21.
What was even more troublesome for the Irish (0-6) was the Lumberjacks' potent ground attack that amassed nearly 300 yards and tallied six touchdowns.
"Their running backs are really good," Rose added. "They are big kids. We would have them tackled at times for little yardage and they'd drag us for a few more yards. That was really the key today."
Seniors Casey Pingley (5-8, 190) and Jonathan Smallwood (6-2, 190) combined for 240 of the infantry yards, with each finding the end zones three times. Pingley led the way with a game-high 149 on 20 totes, while Smallwood added 91 on 22 carries.
Pingley got the scoring going as he capped the opening drive of the game with a 5-yard run. The PAT was wide left, leaving the visitors with an early 6-0 edge.
St. John Central came right back with a touchdown drive of its own as senior quarterback Travis Ogden found junior John Alvey all alone over the middle on a post pattern. Ogden laid the ball right in Alvey's arms from 26 yards out, and Dario Paolina's conversion kick gave the Irish a 7-6 nod with 4:44 on the first-quarter clock.
Three Valley six-pointers in the second quarter gave the visitors a 27-7 advantage at the half, as Smallwood scored on runs of 2 and 12, while Pingley capped the outburst with an 11-yard run with 28 ticks left before the half.
The Irish marched 60 yards on eight plays with the second-half kickoff as Ogden snuck in from a yard out. Paolina's PAT made it 27-14.
Key plays on the scoring drive included a 19-yard dart around left end by Alvey and a 12-yard run by Ogden that took the ball inside the Lumberjacks' 10.
It only took Valley seven plays to answer as Pingley, a West Virginia state 100-meter dash champion, broke free from a pile of players and dashed 40 yards to paydirt. The kick failed again, making it 33-14.
A good kickoff return by Cody Patterson gave the Irish the ball at their own 48, and six plays later sophomore fullback Nick Cervelli burst up the middle and rumbled into the end zone for a 17-yard TD tun. Paolina's kick cut the deficit to 33-21 with 1:49 on the third-quarter clock.
After giving up one first down to the Lumberjacks on the ensuing series of plays, the Irish defense stiffened behind Devon Hennessey and Quinn Myers to force the first Valley punt of the afternoon.
The snap was over Triston Kocher's head and he was dropped for a huge loss at the 'Jacks' 30 by Myers.
Just as good ole' Uncle Mo seemed to be wearing Green-and-White, a penalty forced the Irish to turn the ball over on downs.
"We were right there," Rose said of getting the ball in good field position. "However, a little mistake here and there and our defense has to go back out on the field."
That was costly as Drew Wade broke loose down the far sidelines for a 63-yard gain that all but sealed the verdict. Smallwood capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge.
"We're a young team but we've got some really good kids," veteran Valley head coach Tom West assessed. "We got this one, but we've got to get ready for the next one."
St. John Central managed to rack up 267 yards of total offense, with 200 of that coming on the ground. Ogden led the way with 18 carries for 82 stripes and a TD, while Alvey added 67 on eight trips and Cervelli 37 and a six-pointer on seven totes.
Ogden also completed 5-of-10 passes for 67 yards. He had a TD and a pick.
Ahn-Dao Le selected the odd-colored rose at halftime to win the Queen's contest.
North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org