By KIM NORTH
For The Intelligencer
CANTON - St. Clairsville had used the quarterback draw to its advantage all season.
However, with the Red Devils trailing Clarksville Clinton-Massie 39-28 early in the fourth quarter of the Division IV state championship game Friday at Fawcett Stadium, the Belmont Countians took over possession of the ball at their own 19 after holding the Falcons on downs.
A 55-yard hookup between the senior tandem of quarterback Matt Kinnick and wideout Jerrid Marhefka and an 11-yard scamper by Kinnick set St. Clairsville up with a first-and-goal from the three.
Two straight draws by Kinnick pushed the pigskin to the one, but the same play on third down was snuffed out by Clinton-Massie, resulting in a 2-yard loss and setting up a critical fourth-and-goal with 9:03 remaining.
When asked about the three straight quarterback draws, veteran St. Clairsville coach Brett McLean quickly defended his team's play calling.
"That's our base play in our goalline package and, if you look back over the last three weeks, that play has scored six or seven touchdowns for us.
"We have a lot of confidence in that set and what we do out of it," he continued. "But give (Clinton-Massie) credit, they stood tall when they had to.
"We don't have any regrets in what we called or what we did. We did what we do."
After a St. Clairsville timeout, Kinnick's flip to Luke Smith out of the backfield was short of the target and skipped off the turf near the goalline.
"Our defense got a big stop on third-and-goal from the one," Clinton-Massie head coach Dan McSurley praised. "Then, we held them on fourth down. What a job by our defense."
The non-scoring drive looked even bigger after St. Clairsville sliced the deficit to 39-36 after a Kinnick-to-Marhefka TD strike and Kinnick's 2-point conversion pass to Jay Gossett with 2:36 on the clock.
An onside kick was recovered by the Falcons, who would eventually score again to salt away the triumph.
In defense of McLean's decision, Kinnick ran for three touchdowns on similar plays last week in the semifinal win over defending state champion Creston Norwayne. He had also scored several times on those plays throughout the season.
Did McSurley think his Falcons were headed for a blowout victory when they jumped out 19-0 after one period?
"No, they just have too many great athletes. That No. 9 (Dan) Monteroso is going to Boston College and he is an outstanding athlete," McSurley offered. "(Marhefka) really came up big for them today, and they ran the ball nice. They just had too many weapons for us to keep them out of the end zone.
"I think they were ranked sixth in the state all-time in scoring in a season. We knew they were going to score their points."
McLean said he had an idea during the week leading up to the game that the first team that got a two-score lead would have the advantage.
"I was proud of the way our kids battled back after we dug ourselves an early hole," McLean noted. "That's a tribute to their defense though because they put us in that situation, but we fought our way back into a competitive game.
"I thought whatever team got the early two-score lead would have the upperhand all night. Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for us, they got that on us and we just couldn't claw all the way back."
North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org