By Tom Williams
Moments after Brian Marrow received the first trophy in his program’s nine seasons, the Youngstown Christian head football coach paid tribute to his most successful playoff squad and saluted the beast that ended their season.
“I’m so proud of my staff and my kids,” said Marrow after Friday’s 42-20 loss to unbeaten Mogadore in the Division VI, Region 21 final at Gilcrest Stadium. “No one expected us to get this far.
“The outcome was not what we wanted but I’m still proud of them — it was a great ride.”
The Eagles (9-3) went 2-1 in the playoffs.
Just as he ended Western Reserve’s season last week on the same field, Mogadore running back Gary Strain dominated the Eagles, carrying the ball 32 times for 286 yards.
“He is a complete animal,” Marrow said with a laugh. “He has the total package — speed, vision, cutbacks. He’s tough, probably one of the best backs I’ve seen.”
Earlier Friday, Marrow visited with his brother Vince, an assistant coach on Bo Pelini’s Nebraska staff who was in the Mahoning Valley to scout backs.
“I told him [Strain] was a monster we had to face and it was going to be tough,” Marrow said. “We didn’t get it done tonight.”
Not much went right for the Eagles in the first half as the Wildcats jumped out to a 28-0 lead.
On the Wildcats’ first play, Strain, with a big block by fullback Bryce Huth, broke through the line, raced to his right then cut back for an 82-yard touchdown just 88 seconds into the game.
“He’s a great running back and he showed real good sportsmanship,” Eagles linebacker John Grizzard said. “He’s tough, pretty hard to bring down.”
The Wildcats’ second score took a little longer as they methodically drove 83 yards on 15 plays, capping the long march with Huth’s 2-yard touchdown run.
Kick returner Darien Townsend was popped on the next play and Jeremy Hugg caught his fumble at the Youngstown Christian 30. Nine plays later, Strain scored from the 1.
Then, in the final minute of the first half, the potent Wildcats needed just four plays to go 73 yards for a fourth touchdown. This time, quarterback Anthony Ricci found Kasey Beard alone in the corner of the end zone.
“We were on the bus the whole first half,” Marrow said. “I love them to death, but we just didn’t come out to play. A lot of it was them doing it to us, taking it to us.”
The Eagles came within a yard of scoring midway through the third quarter, moving the ball 63 yards on six plays. Townsend caught a 30-yard pass from Emmett Underwood to set up first-and-goal at the 1.
“I felt I pushed the ball past the pylon,” Townsend said.
Running back Ryan Grier was popped on the next play and Hugg fell on the ball for his second fumble recovery. The Wildcats then drove 99 yards for a fifth touchdown.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Eagles defensive back Paris Bennett picked up Andrew Owens’ fumble and returned it 52 yards for the Eagles’ first score.
“I don’t remember who hit him, but I saw the ball and went after it,” said Bennett of his first fumble recovery touchdown. “It was a good feeling to help my team.”
Bennett recovered the ensuing onside kickoff. But after Underwood completed two passes, Austin Pierce intercepted his next attempt and returned in 60 yards to the Youngstown Christian 20.
On the Eagles’ next offensive play, Townsend caught a quick-hitter from Underwood and outran the Wildcats for a 73-yard touchdown.
In his final varsity game, Underwood completed 11 of 21 passes for 211 yards.
“I saw my blockers in front of me and the cutback lane,” said Townsend who caught six passes for 147 yards. “Ryan Coyier made a good block.”
The other touchdown came when defensive back Robert Thompson returned an Austin Kerr fumble 40 yards.