Last Devils’ semifinal visit was a tough outcome to swallow

Mike Young insists it seems like only yesterday.

Not every season does an eastern Ohio team advance to week 15 in the OHSAA state football playoffs.

Young was a member of iconic St. Clairsville Hall of Fame coach George Strager’s staff when the Red Devils last played in the state semifinals.

The site was Akron’s historic Rubber Bowl. The date: Nov. 21, 1986. The opponent: Chagrin Falls Kenston’s Bombers. The end result?

Well, here’s how Young recalls the postgame lockerroom scene. “It went well beyond heartbreak,” Young described. “Our kids had just lost by one point in a game they very well could have won. I think we were all pretty much devastated.”

And for good reason. St. Clairsville nursed a 21-16 lead late into the fourth quarter and appeared minutes from victory and a date with destiny one week later in Columbus.

Kenston operated at midfield and was to pull off a dramatic play which still haunts Red Devil players and fans to this day.

“We hadn’t really given up a big play the entire game until they hit us with (that) long pass,” Young related.

Kenston’s QB unloaded to a streaking wide open receiver who had nothing but 40 yards of daylight in front of him. However, St. C. fleet safety Shawn Vincent somehow managed to track down the Bombers’ wideout from behind at the Devils’ 12-yard line.

Four plays and precious ticks off the clock later, a quarterback sneak from the one-yard line resulted in the go-ahead touchdown and 22-21 lighting. Kenston’s ensuing two-point conversion attempt failed but St. C. was suddenly in desperation mode.

“(They) left us with just under a minute to try and answer. More than anything, we just ran out of time,” Young advised. “I always said I felt confident we go back down the field and score with more time on the clock.” But it wasn’t meant to be.

Vincent, the Saints’ all-Ohio quarterback, completed a last-second pass near midfield to running back John Spencer (brother of St. C. great Tim Spencer) on the game’s final play and the Red Devils had suffered a numbing, season-ending loss.

Kenston advanced, though lost to (now defunct) CAPE (Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education) , 7-6, the following week in Columbus for the state championship.

“We were that close to going to the ‘Shoe and possibly winning it all. It hurt that much more,” Young stated.

Now head man at Wheeling Central where Young has produced multiple small school state titles with the Maroon Knights in West Virginia, Young realizes first-hand what’s necessary to eventually hoist the big trophy.

“It’s amazing how things have to work in your favor. It was painful we discovered that part of it (against Kenston). Anytime two outstanding teams meet, one is destined to lose. We (St. C.) came up short, but the entire (postseason) experience was something none of us will ever forget.”

In addition to Vincent and Spencer, some other members of the ’86 Red Devils included coaches Ron Gregan, Mickey Blatnik, Lou Vazquez and Doug Soukup along with players Ken Holloway, Ernie Vargo, Steve Pittinger, Jay Sayre, Matt Henry, Joe Pabian, Mike Busby, Mike Vazquez, Greg Kasmirski, Eric Bush, Brad Swan and Pat Drazga.

Young’s advice for St. C.’s 2012 regional champions? “More than anything, enjoy the moment. This (season) is something you’ll look back on the rest of your lives. Go out and compete the same way you have all season realizing one excellent team, unfortunately, will not be moving on.

“At Central, we’ve been on both ends of winning and losing in championship games. One aspect no one can ever take away, however, is the fact you’re still practicing and playing football in late November. A majority of high school football athletes never have an opportunity to experience that part of it. No question, is something that’s very, very special.”