ST. CLAIRSVILLE - During the week of preparation leading up to the opening round of the Division V, Region 21 tournament, the St. Clairsville coaching staff never once drew up a scenario for six turnovers.
But, then again, who does?
Probably no coach, at any level of football in America, has ever expected what Red Devils' head coach Brett McLean and his team encountered Saturday evening at Red Devil Stadium.
T-L Photo/MIKE PALMER
ST. CLAIRSVILLE'S Jaylon Brown (8) and Malik Gummer converge on an interception during the first quarter of Saturday's Division V regional quarterfinal. Also pictured for the Red Devils is Ben Coleman.
St. Clairsville - the fourth seed - was bitten by the turnover bug six times, including two in which Baltimore Liberty Union returned for touchdowns and was handed a decisive 31-0 setback.
"It just turned into a downward spiral with those turnovers," McLean said. "You can't have that in a playoff game because a good team like (Liberty Union) will capitalize on them."
Capitalize the Lions certainly did.
Liberty Union (9-2) actually built a 10-0 lead at halftime and upped it to 17-0 shortly after the start of the third quarter.
The first score of the game came after a Mike Monteroso pass was batted into the air thanks to the Lions' rush, which came in waves all night long. Senior Brandon Dobos caught the ball and then raced it back 27 yards.
St. Clairsville (9-2) still had plenty of life thanks to its defense, which held the Lions to a field goal late in the first half. The Red Devils took the second-half kickoff and proceeded to march into Liberty Union territory.
However, talented senior running back Jaylon Brown was stripped and the ball popped right up for junior Eric Owens, who proceeded to race it back to the end zone from 73 yards away just 1:25 into the third quarter.
"Once we got behind, it really took us out of our game plan completely," McLean said. "We're not really built to chase teams from behind. We're more of a control type team. We've not had to face any kind of adversity like this all season and it's just unfortunate that it had to come tonight."
Liberty Union forced another St. C. punt and the Lions' offense was able to get untracked. It went on a drive that ate 6:49 of the second half before talented senior Jacob Basso, who had connected on the field goal in the first half, plunged in from 2 yards out. All told, Basso finished with 120 yards on 25 carries.
"We never would have dreamed this kind of game and our guys just jumped all over those turnovers," said Liberty Union head coach Dan Johnson. "The two defensive touchdowns really set the tone. Our defense just played their tails off tonight. I can't say enough about that effort."
The final St. C. turnover of the evening, which was a fumble on a punt return, was scooped up and returned to the Devils' 15. Four plays later, sophomore Braden Glasgow capped the scoring with a 6-yard run.
The Lions had a chance to add on to the lead, but opted to take a knee in the game's waning moments.
"There were times when we were getting what we wanted (offensively), but we just had too many mistakes," McLean said. "That's part of the game. It's hard to watch and it's hard to overcome."
The Red Devils, who hadn't been shutout since Oct. 16 of 2009 by Martins Ferry generated just 146 yards of total offense. Brown's brilliant high school career came to a close. He rushed 23 times for 84 yards, but was never able to hit a big run.
"This is a great group of seniors, who've been to the playoffs four times, so we certainly hate to see them go," McLean said. "I think a lot of these guys are going to go on and be successful in whatever they choose to do."
The Red Devils' defense, which played once again without Michigan commit Michael Ferns due to injury, received strong effort from sophomores Jake Stewart and Brendan Ferns. Ben Coleman was also impressive on the defensive side of the ball.
Junior Mike Monteroso completed 8-of-20 passes for 72 yards. He was picked off twice. His top target was shifty junior Malik Gummer, who caught four balls for 35 yards.
Liberty Union will receive an acid test this week when it meets top-seeded Columbus Bishop Hartley at a site to be determined today by the OHSAA.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org