By Gary R. Rasberry
CANTON --The St. Marys Roughriders had the task to beat the defending state champion Benedictine for their fourth state title and fourth in 14 years.
Several plays made the difference as the Bengals repeated at state champions with a 27-14 win at Fawcett Stadium. The Bengals, who have been in the last three state finals, end the season at 12-3 as the Roughriders, making their first trip to the final since 1993, ends the year a fine 13-2.
"They're a well-coached football team. Coach Bortnick does a great job," said St. Marys coach Doug Frye after the game. "They're very athletic. That's what stood out when we watched tape. We really felt we had to control the clock, keep their offense off the field."
St. Marys had control of the clock seven minutes longer than Benedictine, but the Bengals defense kept them scoreless until the fourth quarter thanks to a strong defensive line.
The Roughriders on defense, however, had to contain a team that had the speed to blow past any defense and score at any moment. That speed showed on Benedictine's first score of the game.
Quarterback Joe Laffey moved his team downfield on just nine plays. The last play was an 18-yard strike to Joe Amidon with 10:49 left in the first half to get the Bengals an early lead.
St. Marys looked to score right away with one of its best drives of the day. Bo Frye and Justin Nagel alternated on most of the handoffs from Corey Vossler getting the team down to the Benedictine 5.
On a a third and goal, Vossler faked the handoff to Frye and rolled right for the bootleg. Matt Bortnick, son of head coach Art Bortnick, got his helmet in and dislodged the ball from Vossler. John Dunn scooped it up and was finally knocked out of bounds at the 36 to deny the 'Riders a chance to tie.
The Roughrider defense held tough and did not allow a second touchdown but kicker Alex Stiegerwald booted at 35-yard kick to make it 10-0 going into the the half.
"I really think that was the huge momentum swing in the ballgame," said coach Frye. "Now, instead of going down 7-0 or tied 7-7, it's 10-0. That was a huge factor at that point. That's part of the game."
"It was huge. I thought they were going to cash in," said coach Bortnick, who spent his college days blocking for Tony Dorsett at the University of Pittsburgh. "The ball came out and John scooped it up and ran it back to midfield. We ended up having a penalty take a touchdown away and got a field goal."
Frye was not overly concerned about being down 10-0 at the break. The one thing he was looking to fix was the Roughriders' troubles on running on the perimeter. With Nagel still hampered by a nagging hamstring from the Chaminade-Julienne game, the Roughriders had trouble with sweeps and over end plays.
"At 10-0, I didn't think it was a big factor," said Frye. "In spurts, we moved the ball physically pretty well. Our problem was getting to the perimeter. Justin had PCL (Posteir Cruciate Ligament) replacement surgery last November and had a bad hamstring for about three weeks. We really lost our number-one threat to the outside. We were trying to hodge-podge some things to find another way. That was our concern. We had to find a way to stretch them out and we couldn't figure out a way to do that."
"The scout team did a great job this week," said coach Bortnick. "Troy Huddleston was running the scout team offense all week so he could emulate number three (Vossler) . Vossler is a pretty good football player. Some of our younger players were playing the running backs. As the week progressed, the defense was able to get a better handle and idea on how their offense was going to run itself. Closer to game time, the guys felt more exposed offensively to their plays."
The 10-0 gulf widened to 17-0 just five plays into the second half, thanks to a Troy Huddleston 33-yard scamper. Then in the fourth quarter, 1,000-yard back Jahmal Brown scored from 32 yards to make it 24-0.
The Roughriders were able to get some points on the board in the final five minutes of the game. Vossler punched it in from one yard out with 4:50 left to make the score 24-6.
After Stiegerwald booted a 33-yard field goal with 2:33 left, Vossler went to the air almost exclusively to get six points. Vossler went 3-for-5 on the drive, which ended with Cliff Powell snagging a 29-yard pass from Vossler to make it 27-12. Vossler's two-point run was good to get to the final score.
Frye finished with 120 yards on 28 carries, the first time in the playoffs Frye went over the century mark. Despite the high rushing total from Frye, the Bengals made sure they knew where the Roughriders' fullback was at all times.
"We have guy on the scout team named Bruce Davis who's powerful like Frye is," said senior linebacker Wakeem Goode. "All week he pounded the ball against us. With him doing that, he gave us a great idea on how Frye was going to try and pound the ball on us. That's why we were pretty successful today in bringing down Frye."
Despite the loss, the state final experience was something that at least one Roughrider won't soon forget.
"It's really great," said Roughrider linebacker Nick Yahl. "We have great tradition of St. Marys football. I wish we could have brought it home."