ZANESVILLE — Coach Brett McLean had watched his St. Clairsville High School football team roll over opponents throughout the season, but the Red Devils saved their best for when they needed it most.
After building a 17-point lead in the first quarter of the Division IV, Region 15 final Nov. 16 at Zanesville, top-seeded St. Clairsville needed a big play in the middle of the fourth quarter to secure a 37-29 win over third-seeded Johnstown-Monroe.
The Red Devils (13-0) advanced to a state semifinal Nov. 23 against defending state champion Creston Norwayne at a site to be announced. Norwayne (13-0) defeated Brookfield 49-28 in a regional semifinal Nov. 16.
Red Devils quarterback Matt Kinnick connected with Jerrid Marhefka on a 66-yard touchdown pass with 7 minutes to play in the fourth quarter to regain momentum and give his team a 31-21 lead. The play came 41 seconds after Tyler Thompson had scored his third of four touchdowns for the Johnnies, who finished 10-3 a year after going 13-1 and losing to Norwayne 59-28 in a state semifinal.
“That may have been the biggest play we have had all season,” McLean said of Kinnick’s touchdown pass to Marhefka. “That was two seniors coming through and making something happen when we needed it the most.”
St. Clairsville scored on four of its first five possessions to take a 24-7 lead with 5:52 remaining before halftime. In the first half, Kinnick rushed for a 13-yard touchdown and threw a 12-yard touchdown to Michael Ferns and a 21-yard score to Marhefka. Zach Musilli also kicked a 21-yard field goal.
“It would have been easy for our kids to give up, but they went out and played four quarters,” Johnstown coach Mike Carter said. “We made the adjustments on defense, kept our heads up and did what we needed to do.”
Thompson rushed for 124 yards on 25 carries for Johnstown, with touchdowns of 31, 15, 23 and 9 yards. He also was 3-for-13 passing for 59 yards and two interceptions. Cody Farley ran 20 times for 111 yards and Scott Sammons caught two passes for 36 yards.
Kinnick was 15 of 30 passing for 260 yards and four touchdowns. Jaylon Brown rushed for 150 yards on 27 carries for the Red Devils and caught five passes for 80 yards. Marhefka had five receptions for 112 yards and Dan Monteroso had three catches for 77 yards.
SC -- Kinnick 13 run (Musilli kick)
SC -- Musilli 21 FG
SC -- M. Ferns 12 pass from Kinnick (Musilli kick)
J -- Thompson 31 run (Benton kick)
SC -- Marhefka 21 pass from Kinnick (Musilli kick)
J -- Thompson 15 run (Benton kick)
J -- Thompson 23 run (Benton kick)
SC -- Marhefka 66 pass from Kinnick (Musilli kick)
SC -- Gossett 7 pass from Kinnick (kick failed)
J -- Thompson 9 run (Carter run)