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Overtime gamble gives Wahama first state title

WHEELING - Thanks to a little gamble, Wahama hit the jackpot Saturday night.

Quarterback Trenton Gibbs ran around left end for a 2-point conversion in overtime, giving the White Falcons a dramatic 43-42 victory over Madonna in the Class A championship game at Wheeling Island Stadium.

It marked the first-ever state title for unbeaten Wahama (14-0), the No. 3 seed, which lost to Wheeling Central during its only other Super Six visit in 2010. Madonna (12-2) was seeking a crown to match the one it captured in 2009.

"Finally,'' said White Falcons veteran coach Ed Cromley with a smile. "We got here finally, and we're really happy about it. The kids are fantastic and we want to thank everybody who supported us.''

Each team received an outstanding individual effort - Wahama from halfback Kane Roush (168 yards rushing, 80 receiving, three touchdowns, four tackles, three kick returns for 55 yards) and Madonna from quarterback Ross Comis (144 yards rushing, five TDs, 127 yards passing with one TD toss, 11 tackles). Each was selected as his team's MVP in a media vote.

The game, by far the best matchup of the entire championship weekend, featured non-stop excitement in the second half as the lead changed hands five times in that span and was tied two other times.

The biggest decision came after Madonna had gone ahead 42-35 on its overtime possession, which began at the Wahama 20. Comis scored on a 2-yard run and Matthew Green booted the extra point.

On its OT series, Wahama used an 18-yard hookup from Gibbs to Roush in the left flat to get the ball to the 1-yard line, setting up a dive into the end zone by fullback Zack Wamsley. Wahama then called a timeout and decided to go for a 2-point conversion to win the game instead of kicking and possibly forcing a second OT.

"We had trouble stopping [Madonna] in the second half,'' Cromley said. "They were able to drive the ball. And extra points were my concern. We didn't have a great snap on our first [PAT attempt in the first quarter] and didn't score. I thought we'd be better off letting 11 players try to do it instead of putting pressure on a couple - the snapper, kicker and holder.''

Cromley said Wahama originally had called a play on the 2-pointer similar to the one that gained 18 yards to Roush a couple snaps earlier, but he was worried when he saw several Madonna players lurking in the left flat, expecting the same play.

Gibbs, under center, also saw the same thing and said he nearly called another timeout, which would have cost the White Falcons a penalty for taking consecutive timeouts and placed the ball at the 8.

Disaster may have resulted for Wahama, but no one will ever know for sure, because when Gibbs sent Wamsley in motion across the formation, the Blue Dons were whistled for encroachment, moving the ball from the 3-yard line to the 11/2 for the conversion try.

"When we had 3 yards to go,'' Cromley said, "our quarterback had called for that play where we would throw a screen pass to the outside. They had four guys there and I'm sure a fifth was just waiting to get over there. It was really a savior to us we that got the encroachment so we could run another play like we did. We had a lot more confidence there than from the 3.''

Most folks (and the Madonna defense) probably expected Gibbs to hand off to the 200-pound Wamsley from just outside the 1, but instead he took the snap and headed around left end and met up with little resistance for the winning score.

An elated Gibbs wheeled around in the end zone, spiked the ball to the ground and headed toward midfield and a raucous celebration with his White Falcons teammates as the Wahama partisans in the crowd of about 4,000 let out the night's loudest roar.

"We ran [Wamsley] one way and we had our guys on the left side block for me,'' Gibbs said moments later. "There was a hole there, but I couldn't have done it without them. I thought it was a great job, and our team was great the whole game.''

Gibbs said he wasn't surprised when Wahama's coaching staff decided to go for the win instead of kicking for one point.

"With their offense clicking the way it was,'' Gibbs said, "I figured it was going to come down to something gutsy like that, anyway. I didn't mind it. I really didn't want to throw in that situation. After they had the encroachment and we had 11/2 yards to get in, I knew I could punch it in. I figured this was all I'd dreamed of, and I knew I wasn't going to let nothing stop me.''

Interestingly, the game nearly didn't come down to Wahama's fateful decision to go for 2. Madonna nearly beat the White Falcons to the trick when it scored on a 21-yard pass from a scrambling Comis to Marcello Biondillo with 47 seconds remaining in regulation to lower its deficit to 35-34.

The Blue Dons came out and lined up as if they were going to run an offensive play from the 3 on the conversion, but the play clock ran out, they were hit with a delay-of-game penalty and had to settle for a Green extra point to tie it. They had no timeouts left at that stage.

"We thought about it, then changed our mind back and forth,'' said Madonna coach Doug Taylor. "We ended up kicking the point and got the tie for overtime.''

Madonna then lost the coin flip to start OT and Wahama elected to play defense first.

"I thought we got a strip on their first [offensive] play, but we didn't get it,'' Taylor said. "We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times, but we can't hang our head. That's a good football team and we played well.

"It is what it is. When they went for 2, we ended up offside and they moved it up halfway. That's pretty tough to keep them out of there with that running game.''

Madonna led 14-12 at halftime, but neither side was ahead by more than seven points the entire game. It was the highest-scoring Class A title game ever.

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.


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