PARSONS - To start the second overtime, Madonna's Eliott Nero was on the sideline receiving a well-deserved breather.
After Tucker County ran two plays, Nero re-entered the game at his linebacker spot. The next snap, he blitzed up the middle to sack the Mountain Lions' Derek Nestor and force a fumble, which was recovered by Madonna's Josh Martin.
Three plays later, the Blue Dons punched their ticket to the Class A state championship game as Ross Comis scored on a 1-yard keeper up the middle giving No. 4 Madonna (12-1) a 20-14 double overtime victory against top-seeded Tucker County (12-1), on a cold, snowy day at R.H. Armstrong Memorial Field in Parsons.
The win secured a spot for Madonna at the Super Six at Wheeling Island for the first time since 2009 when it defeated Man, 27-7, for the title.
The Blue Dons will face No. 3 Wahama, a 10-7 winner against No. 2 Magnolia, next Saturday.
"I'm so proud of these kids," Madonna coach Doug Taylor said. "To come over here and beat the top-ranked team and get back to Wheeling, these kids just played their hearts out against a very good team. There's a reason Tucker County was No. 1 and they showed why.
"Ross and Eliott both made a lot of plays out there today. Both of those guys are hard-nosed kids on both sides of the ball. Ross has been our guy all year long but he does what he does because of everyone else around him."
Both teams struggled to move the ball consistently. The weather may have had partial credit for that but the two hard-hitting, stingy defenses were the biggest culprits as every yard gained in the contest was a small victory.
Madonna finished with 306 yards of total offense with Comis and Nero having a hand in every single yard.
The high-powered Mountain Lions' ground game was held to 60 yards, roughly 200 below their season average and 105 through the air.
The Blue Dons struck first on the scoreboard as Nero capped his team's second drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. He touched the ball on all five plays of the possession four rushes and he also caught an 18-yard pass from Comis to set up a first-and-goal from the three.
After a pair of three-and-outs, Tucker County's offense finally found a little rhythm late in the first quarter and early in the second. Nestor gave the Mountain Lions their initial first down of the contest on a 19-yard pass to Nathaniel Goldstein. The senior QB then added runs of seven, nine and seven yards before completing a huge screen pass on third-and-14 to Zach Armstrong that resulted in a 35-yard pickup down to the Madonna one. Austin Zirk then punched it in from there to tie the game at seven with 9:55 left before halftime.
The Blue Dons had a couple of chances to re-take the lead in the second quarter but the Tucker defense countered with a couple of bend but don't break series aided by a pair of goal line stands. Following the Zirk touchdowns, Madonna marched into the red zone and got as far as the nine before the Mountain Lions came up with four straight plays that yielded no gain to force a turnover on downs.
Two plays later, Nero recovered an Armstrong fumble to give the ball right back to the Dons. They made it as far as the three before Tucker's Mikhail Lewis sacked Comis for a 2-yard loss on second down and two consecutive incomplete passes gave the ball back to the Mountain Lions on downs.
"We really had difficulty moving the ball, especially on the ground," Taylor said. "Their defense had a lot to do with that though. Luckily, our defense kept making plays too. This was two very tough defenses going at it today."
The first three possessions of the second half all ended in punts two by Tucker, one by Madonna before Comis took matters into his own hands. The junior signal-caller was directly involved on seven of the eight plays on his team's second drive. He picked up 23 yards on the ground, completed two clutch passes of 16 yards to Garrett Hypes and 22 yards to Marcello Biondillo before giving his team back the lead with a 4-yard touchdown run.
Tucker appeared to counter with a drive that advanced the ball into Madonna territory before Nero sacked Nestor on the last play of the third quarter and two plays later on a fourth-down pass play, Comis came away with an interception.
Any momentum the Blue Dons had just gained was quickley squashed by Cory DiBartolomeo, who sacked Comis for a 12-yard loss. The Tucker County defensive tackle finished the game with three sacks.
The Mountain Lions got the ball back after forcing another punt. Nestor had to briefly leave the game following a big hit from Comis on second down. Comis immediately followed that play with another big hit right at the line of scrimmage on Zirk that forced a fourth-and-5. Nestor re-entered and completed a 16-yard pass to Zirk to keep the drive alive and the Tucker QB followed with three straight runs, the last of which was 1-yard TD run to tie the game with 5:10 left.
Both defenses tightened even more until Comis broke loose for a 21-yard gain to set up the Dons at the Tucker 11 with 17 seconds to play. Comis added runs of seven and three yards but couldn't get into the end zone. Madonna's Matthew Green came on to attempt a game-winning 19-yard field goal with five ticks left on the clock. But the low kick was blocked by the Tucker interior to force overtime.
Madonna went first in OT and Nero carried the ball on three straight plays to set up a third-and-six from the five. Comis kept in for a gain of four to move it to the one on fourth down. The Dons went back to Nero for the potential go-ahead score but DiBartolomeo and company met him right at the line of scrimmage to deny the Madonna touchdown.
Tucker could go nowhere on its first overtime possession and Michael Callaway's 37-yard field goal attempt to win the game came up short, setting up the heroics of Nero and Comis in the second overtime.
Comis finished the game with 102 yards on the ground and 138 through the air. Nero had 66 yards rushing and 36 receiving.
For the Mountain Lions, Nestor had a team-high 45 rushing yards and threw for 105.