The Bulldogs, who had rallied for two straight playoff wins, were unable to come back a third time and fell to Lake Catholic, 21-0.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
WARREN -- The Poland High football team was gathered on one knee at midfield listening to coach Paul Hulea speak after losing to Lake Catholic.
Suddenly Hulea stopped and looked over at Lake Catholic, just as the Cougars were receiving their regional championship trophy. At that moment, every member of the Bulldogs looked over at the Cougars and began to clap.
It was a classy moment for the Bulldogs, who finally ran out of miracles Friday, falling 21-0 to Lake Catholic in the Division III regional final at Mollenkopf Stadium.
"I thought we had one more in us," said Hulea, whose team had engineered two straight come-from-behind playoff victories. "We sort of ran out of gas."
Fell into hole: Poland (11-2) -- which had not given up more than 14 points to any team this season -- fell behind 14-0 in the first half and never recovered -- mainly because Cougars sophomore quarterback Mark Petruziello wouldn't let them.
Petruziello hit 12-of-21 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown, and added 18 carries for 117 yards and a 57-yard third quarter touchdown that put the game away.
"He did a great job," Hulea said of Petruziello. "He's a great football player."
The Cougars (11-2) shut down Poland's running attack, which was without leading rusher Lou DaVanzo, to just 72 yards rushing for the game.
Forced to pass: Junior tailback Brandon Hardin played well in his first start -- gaining 11 carries for 60 yards -- but the Bulldogs were forced to pass almost the entire second half.
Poland quarterback Sean Clayton was 13-of-37 for 180 yards and an interception, but threw 23 passes in the second half. At one point, Clayton missed nine in a row.
"Our kids were focused all week and did a great job of preparing -- they can almost coach themselves," Cougars coach Tom Lombardo said. "To shut out this team is a credit to our defense."
Lake Catholic's first score came on a 10-play, 71-yard drive, capped by Petruziello's 12-yard pass to Mark Watson, who tiptoed the back line to keep his feet in bounds.
After Poland went three and out, the Cougars went on a 12-play, 71-yard drive to make it 14-0 on Dan Cvelbar's 3-yard score.
Good half: Petruziello completed 8-of-14 passes in the first half for 103 yards, a touchdown and an interception, which came on a one-handed grab by Rob Chance to thwart a promising late drive with just more than two minutes left.
Poland had just 25 yards net rushing in the first half and Clayton never seemed to gain a rhythm, hitting just 6-of-13 passes for 58 yards in the first half.
Things didn't get much better in the second half.
On Poland's third possession of the third quarter, the Bulldogs were penalized five times for 43 yards and had a third and 41 at one point on their own 9-yard line. Poland finished with 13 penalties for 127 yards.
School mark: "I don't want to talk about the things that hurt us, I want to talk about what a great group of seniors we have," said Hulea, whose senior class set a school record with a 32-6 record over three years. "They have nothing to hang their heads about."
Bulldog wide-out Jake Bajerski had seven receptions for 80 yards to finish with a school-record 59 catches. Defensive lineman Jason Marchese added two sacks.
Despite the loss, Poland has a solid core returning, led by Clayton, cornerback Neil Harris and Hardin.
"Like always, our program wins in January through March," Hulea said, referring to Poland's weight programs. "We do everything right in the off-season."