ST. CLAIRSVILLE - During the week leading up to the opening round of the Ohio Division V, Region 21 tournament, the St. Clairsville coaching staff never once drew up a scenario for six turnovers.
But, then again, who does?
Probably no coach, at any level of football in America, has ever expected what Red Devils coach Brett McLean and his team encountered Saturday evening at Red Devil Stadium.
St. Clairsville - the fourth seed - was bitten by the turnover bug six times, including two in which Liberty Union returned for touchdowns and was handed a decisive 31-0 setback.
"It just turned into a downward spiral with those turnovers," McLean said. "You can't have that in a playoff game because a good team like (Liberty Union) will capitalize on them."
Liberty Union (9-2) actually built a 10-0 lead at halftime and upped it to 17-0 shortly after the start of the third quarter.
The first score came after a Mike Monteroso pass was batted into the air thanks to the Lions rush, which came in waves all night long. Senior Brandon Dobos caught the ball and then raced it back 27 yards.
St. Clairsville (9-2) still had plenty of life thanks to its defense, which held the Lions to a field goal late in the first half. The Red Devils took the second-half kickoff and proceeded to march into Liberty Union territory.
However, talented senior running back Jaylon Brown was stripped and the ball popped right up for junior Eric Owens, who proceeded to race it back to the end zone from 73 yards away just 1:25 into the third quarter.
"Once we got behind, it really took us out of our game plan completely," McLean said. "We're not really built to chase teams from behind. We're more of a control type team. We've not had to face any kind of adversity like this all season and it's just unfortunate that it had to come (Saturday night)."
Liberty Union forced another St. C. punt and the Lions offense was able to get untracked. It went on a drive that ate 6:49 of the second half before talented senior Jacob Basso, who had connected on the field goal in the first half, plunged in from 2 yards out. All told, Basso finished with 120 yards on 25 carries.
"We never would have dreamed this kind of game and our guys just jumped all over those turnovers," Liberty Union coach Dan Johnson said. "The two defensive touchdowns really set the tone. Our defense just played their tails off. I can't say enough about that effort."
The final St. C. turnover, which was a fumble on a punt return, was scooped up and returned to the Devils 15. Four plays later, sophomore Braden Glasgow capped the scoring with a 6-yard run.
The Lions had a chance to add on to the lead, but opted to take a knee in the game's wanning moments.
"There were times when we were getting what we wanted (offensively), but we just had too many mistakes," McLean said. "That's part of the game. It's hard to watch and it's hard to overcome."
The Red Devils, who hadn't been shutout since Oct. 16, 2009 by Martins Ferry generated 146 yards of offense. Brown's career came to a close after he rushed 23 times for 84 yards, but was never able to hit a big run.
"This is a great group of seniors, who've been to the playoffs four times, so we certainly hate to see them go," McLean said. "I think a lot of these guys are going to go on and be successful in whatever they choose to do."
Junior Mike Monteroso completed 8 of 20 passes for 72 yards. He was picked off twice. His top target was shifty junior Malik Gummer, who caught four passes for 35 yards.