CANTON - The cliche that says all good things must come to an end reared its ugly head once again Friday evening.
Unfortunately, it wasn't supposed to end like it did for the dream season of the St. Clairsville football team.
Despite enjoying a season and playoff run no one will soon forget, the Red Devils left Fawcett Stadium broken hearted as their quest for the school and county's first football state championship came up just short, 46-36, to Clarksville Clinton-Massie in the Division IV title game in the shadows of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
OHSAA State Football Championship
"Obviously, this hurts right now, but I know these young men will reflect on this experience for the rest of their lives," said St. Clairsville head coach Brett McLean. "We have nothing to hang our heads about."
After posting impressive playoff victories against Harrison Central, Piketon, Johnstown-Monroe and Creston Norwayne, the Red Devils ran into a challenge that was just a bit too much in the form of a Clinton-Massie team that set the state record for points in a season.
The Red Devils found themselves in a bizarre place early in the game as the Falcons soared to a 19-0 lead before the more than 8,000 fans had even settled into their seats.
THE ST. Clairsville seniors and head coach Brett McLean hoist the Division IV State Runnerup Trophy after falling to Clarksville Clinton-Massie, 46-36, Friday evening in Canton’s Fawcett Stadium. From left are Luke Smith (22), Jerrid Marhefka (6), Justin Callarik (13), Haylee Skukan (91) and McLean. Additional images may be found at cu.timesleaderonline.com
"We thought we had three or four guys in the backfield that could be affective," said C-M head coach Dan McSurely.
Clinton-Massie took the opening kickoff and marched 64 yards on seven plays before hard-running junior Bayle Wolf ran in from 9 yards out.
The Falcons' defense got into the act on the next play from scrimmage. As he'd done with regularity the last month, St. C. senior quarterback Matt Kinnick was looking up top for Boston College-bound Dan Monteroso.
However, Clinton-Massie safety Cole Brogan had the play read and picked of the pass.
"We knew early in the week the first team to get a couple of stops and get a two-score lead would have the upperhand," McLean said. "They were able to get that on us."
The Falcons made it 12-0 on the next play when quarterback Tyler Uetrecht found Wolf all alone behind the St. C. defense for a 36-yard touchdown pass.
St. Clairsville found some offensive consistency, but was held on downs at the Falcons' 15. Clinton-Massie went back to the ground, running 13 straight plays with the march capped by a 3-yard plunge by Wolf. The PAT by Callum Jones was good and Clinton-Massie appeared to be on its way to a rout.
"I don't think (the first quarter) was because of nerves or anything," McLean said. "I think they were faster in places than we thought they were coming in. They made plays on both sides of the ball. As the playoffs have gone on each week, the teams have equated in speed. We lived on speed this season and as that equated, the games became tighter and tighter every week."
Despite the early hole, the Red Devils knew they just had to settle down and not get away from their gameplan.
"We'd been down before, but we just told the to stay calm like they'd always done," McLean said. "We knew we could move the ball offensively, but we had to chip our way back into it. We needed that one score to get the monkey off our back."
St. Clairsville went right back to work on its next drive. The Kinnick to Monteroso, who caught 9 balls for 143 yards, play got untracked for 30 yards and then he found senior standout Jerrid Marhefka for the first catch of what turned out to be a huge game.
The Red Devils got to the 38-yard line and, following another completion to Monteroso, then unleashed junior tailback Jaylon Brown, who ran for 9 and 16 yards, taking the ball to the 1 and he capped the march for his first touchdown since the regional semifinal. Zach Musilli was perfect on the PAT kick and it was a game again.
"We needed that confidence boost," McLean said. "Once we got that first one, you could feel it. We knew could get it done from that point and we just moved on and kept playing our game."
The Red Devils retained and gained additional momentum when Musilli's squib kick was recovered by Dalton Nolte, putting the Devils in business on the Falcons' 45.
Kinnick and Marhefka, who hooked up for a state-finals record 272 yards on nine catches, gained 35 on the first play of the drive. The duo struck for the first of four touchdowns three plays later on a 7-yard play. Musilli's PAT was again perfect and just like that it was 19-14.
The Red Devils attempted another squib, but the Falcons were ready.
Five plays and 2:13 later, Clinton-Massie had pushed the lead back to two scores. With another steady dose of Wolf and hard-running fullback Wyatt Running, the Falcons found the end zone again. Wolf, who finished the game with 220 yards on 24 carries, scored his fourth touchdown of the game from 27 yards out. Jones' extra point made it 26-14.
The see-saw battle was just beginning as neither defense could slow down the other team.
After the Clinton-Massie defense stopped the Red Devils on a fourth-down try at midfield, back to the ground the Falcons went. Running got into the scoring act, capping a 5-play drive from 6 yards out. Jones' PAT made it a 19-point game once again.
That aforementioned Kinnick and Marhefka combination found paydirt again. This time it was real quick. After a short run, Kinnick found his classmate on the right sideline. A cut back to the middle of the field later, Marhefka was off to the races for a 76-yard touchdown.
"Early on, (Clinton-Massie) was double teaming Dan and they really stuck with it, so the coaches were able to find mismatches where we had Jerrid one-on-one and we were able to take advantage of it," Kinnick said during the post-game press conference.
Clinton-Massie drove into the red zone on its next possession, but a 32-yard field goal try at the horn was wide left, leaving the game at 33-21.
Getting the ball to begin the third quarter, McLean's message to his team was simple.
"We told the kids that the first drive (of the third quarter) can win you the momentum for the second half of this football game," McLean said. "I think our kids came out and executed some special plays under a lot of pressure very well."
Converting two fourth downs, the Red Devils capped an 11-play march when Kinnick found Marhefka from 9 yards out on the same pattern they scored their first touchdown. Musilli's perfect PAT made it 33-28.
Again, the wishbone and option proved to be too much for the Red Devils' defense as Clinton-Massie answered right back. Uetrecht executed a beautiful option play for an 8-yard touchdown. The run for two was stuffed and it 39-28.
"We've seen teams in our league that use the bone, but I think Clinton-Massie executed it the best we've seen all season, which is the reason they won the game," McLean said. "They get you in a predicament because it's an inside-outside type of deal. They did a very good job of running it."
Clinton-Massie had a chance to deliver a knock-out blow after pouncing on a St. C. fumble on the ensuing kickoff. However, holding and false start penalties set the Falcons back and the Devils stopped them on fourth down.
With the fourth quarter under way, St. Clairsville again moved the ball right down the field. The Red Devils had a first-and-goal on the 4. Kinnick's number was called for 2 yards. He then took the next play to the 1 yard line. On third down, he was met for a loss of 2 yards.
"That's a base play in our goal line package," McLean said. "If you look back over the last three or four weeks, that's scored about six or seven touchdowns for us. We have high confidence in that set. Give Clinton-Massie credit because they stood tall when they had to. We don't have any regrets of what we called or when we called it. We did what we do."
After a St. C. timeout, Kinnick's pass fell incomplete.
"Our defense really came up big on that play," McSurely said. "That was huge! That really could have been the difference in the game. In the long run, our defense came through for us."
The Red Devils' defense again got a stop and forced only the 13th Clinton-Massie punt of the season.
Kinnick, who threw for 437 yards and 4 touchdowns, found Marfhefka again for a 46-yard hookup. Kinnick then hooked up with Jay Gossett for the 2-point conversion, making it 39-36 with 2:36 to play.
The Devils' third attempt at an onside kick was pounced on by the Falcons. Three rushes by Wolf and the lead was back to 10. He capped his impressive evening with a 22-yard burst.
St. C.'s last ditch attempt ended with an interception by Wolf to seal the deal.
The Clinton-Massie running game accumulated 408 yards. The Falcons passed for 64. St. C. ran for 74 and threw for 442 for 516 yards of total offense.
The St. Clairsville defense received a stellar performance from senior Luke Smith. The Red Devils' leading tackler came up with 11 solos and 15 total tackles. Senior Cole Stephen was in on 14 tackles, including six solo from his linebacker spot.