LEESVILLE - St. John Central has been close to victory in both of the first two weeks of the 2013 football season.
Unfortunately, for the Fighting Irish, close doesn't get the job done.
After falling on the road at Troy Christian last Friday, the Irish bused to Harrison County to tangle with Conotton Valley in an OVAC small-school battle.
St John defensive end Jonathan Bossell makes a fourth quarter interception as teammate Kyle Coppa assists on the coverage during Saturday’s game at Conotton Valley. The Irish fell, 12-6.
In a game where both teams lost their starting quarterbacks on the same unsportsmanlike penalty, in the third quarter, the Rockets found a way and prevailed, 12-6.
Conotton Valley brought in their second string snap caller, but the Irish were already without starter Dario Paolina, sidelined with an injury, and Stefano Paolina's early exit left the game in the hands of sophomore Kyle Ogden.
"When you have a small roster you sometimes have to fill in holes with inexperience," said Irish head coach Jeff Paolina. "While we were down to our third string quarterback, I thought Kyle did a great job stepping up and managing the game for us."
The starter was 4 of 13 for 78 yards and was the second leading rusher for the Irish with 44 yards on 13 carries. Ogden, meanwhile, completed just 1 of 7 passes for minus 4 yards.
"It was another tough game for us, it was our second close loss," Coach Paolina stated. "We know things are improving, we see the progress and it has been the difference of just one or two more plays that we make and we are 2-0 instead of 0-2."
Turnovers dominated the first quarter as the Rockets coughed up the ball on their opening drives with Zach White and Nick Cervelli covering the loose ball for the Irish.
St. John went 3 and out on its first drive as the Rockets' Alex Chilton had two tackles for loss to force the punt.
On the second drive, St. John went down to the Rockets' 19 before Kenny Feister picked off the young Paolina to end the threat.
A bad punt left the Irish with a short field as they began their third drive on the Rocket 28. Once again, however, the offense stalled, this time at the 3 yard line.
The Irish defense forced another 3 and out and gave the offense the ball back just 27 yards from the 6 point line.
This time, it looked like the Irish would capitalize on the good field position as Devon Hennesey took it across on a sweep to the wide side of the field from 2 yards out.
St. John was flagged for holding so Paolina went to the air from the 12 yard line and found Jacob Jones in the end zone, but once again the laundry was on the turf and an ineligible call negated the score. The next two pass attempts were incomplete and once again the Rockets took over on downs.
Duplicating their opponents, the hosts drove down to the 5 yard line where on first and goal they were flagged for illegal substitution, then fumbled and recovered wasting a down before an illegal procedure call pushed them back to the 19 yard line.
The frustration continued through the first half until with just a minute left before the half the Rockets broke the ice scoring on a 35 yard strike from Colton Cottis to freshman Bryden Adams. The PAT was no good, but Conotton had the lead 6-0.
Hennessey returned the ensuing kick off to the Rockets' 48 and it took just one play for Paolina to even the score, connecting with Cameron Opic down the right sideline to pay dirt. The PAT was wide and the two teams were back to even to begin the second half.
The Irish turned over the ball on downs on the play, which would end in an altercation and caused the aforementioned ejections.
The Rockets began the drive on their own 19 with freshman Brett Bower under center. Two plays later, junior Kenny Fesiter took the hand off from the frosh QB and outran the Irish defense down the visitors sideline 62 yards for the winning score.
"Our defense played extremely well today. I could not have asked for a better effort," said Conotton head coach Eric Schumacher. "We had a bitter taste in our mouths after last week's loss, we just did not play well last week. We came out today better prepared. We had a lot of young guys step up and help us get the win."
Despite the loss Paolina found some positives, "I think we made some progress today. Our kids played hard for four full quarters. They never put their heads down, they never gave up. Despite some missed opportunities, we never gave up."
Hennesey led the Irish with 57 yards on 22 carries as they would rush for a total of 124 stripes. Opic had three catches for 68 yards for St. John while Wharton and Quinn Meyers would lead the defensive stat column with 5 solo tackles apiece.
Conotton Valley rolled up 207 yards rushing while Cottis was 3 of 8 for 56 yards.
St. John makes its home debut on Saturday when Strasburg visits. The Tigers are 1-1 and handled Conotton Valley in week one.