For the second week in a row, the Walsh Jesuit football team came within a whisker of that elusive win No. 1.
The Warriors dropped to 0-4 with a 42-40 loss at home to St. Francis (Athol Springs, N.Y.) in an offensive bloodbath.
Trailing 42-34 with less than two minutes to go in the game, Walsh scored a touchdown that stunned Warriors head coach Scott Beigie.
The play was a 32-yard pass from junior quarterback Cameron Mayes to senior wide receiver Vince Rizzo.
"I still don’t know how that pass was completed," said Beigie. "We ran a play-action pass not set up to throw to Vince, but our two other guys on the routes weren’t open.
"Cam saw that Vince had a bit of a step on the defender, and that’s being a little generous.
"Somehow, some way, the ball fell right into Vince’s arms. He made a great catch, Cam made a great throw, but that defender was all over Vince. It was a fantastic play."
Of course, Walsh went for the two-point conversion but couldn’t convert.
"It was another play-action pass," said Beigie. "Cam had some pressure in his face pretty quickly, and he threw it off his back foot to Vince Sutton, our senior fullback in that formation. The ball went right off his fingers.
"It would’ve been a heck of a catch by Vince. The pressure on Cam caused the throw to be a little off, and unfortunately we just couldn’t pull it in."
The Warriors’ onside kick was unsuccessful, and one first down later, the game was over.
Walsh came out like gangbusters in the first quarter. The Warriors took a 7-0 lead when senior defensive lineman Joe Kyner returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown.
"It was a pass out into the flat," Beigie said. "Joe just caught it. There was a receiver two or three yards outside of him, but he just got a great jump on the ball and cut it off."
Kyner, doubling as a running back, rumbled 69 yards for a touchdown to give the home team a 14-0 lead.
"Joe broke a lot of tackles," said Beigie. "A linebacker met him at the line of scrimmage, but he spun off the tackle. He probably ran 100 yards to get the 69-yard touchdown because he was weaving back and forth, east and west."
In the second quarter, Walsh upped its lead to 21-0 when Mayes completed a 30-yard touchdown pass to Rizzo.
"Vince had a step on the defensive back, but Cam phenomenally placed the football to his outside shoulder, and Vince made a heck of a catch," said Beigie. "The defender got his hand up, but the ball was perfectly placed.
"We were definitely feeling pretty confident about where we were standing. From the defensive perspective, you start out with an interception return for a touchdown, and you’re hoping the confidence is boosted up."
Mental errors by St. Francis didn’t hurt Walsh’s cause. In fact, the Red Raiders had 16 of them, for 152 yards.
Later in the second quarter, St. Francis got on the board on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Jake Ritts to Antonio Corsi.
"We had the ball on our side of the field with about a minute left in the half," said the coach. "I was trying to run the clock down, trying to get us to halftime in a good spot.
"Unfortunately, on third-and-long, I ran a draw play just to get us some yardage so we could punt the ball, stop them and go into halftime up 14. But we fumbled the ball away on the handoff exchange between Cam and Joe."
The Red Raiders took over possession of the ball on Walsh’s 30-yard line. On the last play of the half, they pulled within 21-14 when Ritts threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Xzavier Janczylik.
"Unfortunately, the momentum shifted," said Beigie.
Nonetheless, in the third quarter Walsh was able to increase its lead to 28-14 when Mayes completed a 16-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Joe El Biri.
"That was a play-action pass where Joe came across the field from the left side of the formation to the right," Beigie said. "There was a defensive end coming across the line of scrimmage to get Cam, but Joe was wide open, and Cam threw a great ball, and Joe leaped in over top of a defender."
Although Walsh seemed to grab the momentum back, Beigie wasn’t so sure.
"It just had that feel that we were on our heels oddly enough," he said.
Apparently, he was correct. St. Francis dominated the rest of the third quarter. Ritts scored on a 20-yard touchdown run to cut the Warriors’ lead to 28-21.
He then threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Dominik Thomas to tie the score.
Then, Janczylik ran 69 yards for a touchdown that gave St. Francis its first lead of the night, 35-28.
"Offensively," said Beigie, "St. Francis just took control of things. Their offensive line did a really nice job.
"Defensively, they did a phenomenal job getting pressure on us and poking holes within our protection up front, which forced Cam to be on the run a decent amount of time."
Early in the fourth quarter, on the ensuing kickoff following Janczylik’s touchdown run, senior Austin Lustik returned the ball 44 yards.
A few plays later, senior running back Tommy Cummings raced 26 yards for a touchdown to pull Walsh within 35-34.
"Tommy found a hole right up the middle," Beigie said. "The line did a fairly good job to the play side, and the beauty of Tommy is that he’s just a flat-out athlete.
"He’s not shuffling his feet in the backfield trying to find that perfect hole. He just goes and attacks. He has the vision.
"He saw where the hole opened up, and it was his speed right off the snap that set him up for the touchdown. I think he caught the defenders off guard. Tommy was into the third level of defense before you knew it."
Junior Caroline Flessner missed the extra-point try, leaving the Warriors down by a single point.
St. Francis added to its lead on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Ritts to Thomas, which gave the visitors that eight-point lead.
Mayes was 9-of-12 for 126 yards.
"This was no doubt Cam’s best game of the season," said Beigie. "We’ve been seeing a progressive snapshot of him getting back to where he was last year.
"He did a phenomenal job. He was thinking less and just played. He was just being the natural athlete that he is."
Cummings had 10 rushes for 79 yards, while Kyner ran the ball six times for 72 yards.
"Both Tommy and Joe did very well running the ball," the coach said. "Joe has a little more speed, and Tommy, although he’s fast, is a little more contact-oriented. They definitely provided us a spark in the running game."
Rizzo had four receptions for 73 yards.
"Vince had a huge game. He works his tail off and deserved that success," said Beigie. "Offensively, it felt like everything was clicking and going our way. The guys were on the same page. That made it a good game to watch and participate in."
Defensively, junior linebacker Adam Salek had eight tackles. Sutton, doubling as a linebacker, recorded five tackles.
With four tackles apiece were Lustik, doubling as a defensive back, senior defensive back Tevin Watkins, junior defensive lineman Nolan Flanagan and sophomore defensive end Tyler Capron.
"Unfortunately, we made more mistakes defensively than I’d like to own up to," Beigie said. "We had some spots where we had St. Francis in the backfield, whether it be the quarterback or the running back. We just weren’t able to keep them down, and they extended those plays.
"There are things that we’ve got to fix just in terms of doing our jobs. We need to finish. When we’ve got the ball carrier wrapped up, we have to finish the tackle. We can’t give them second and third chances.
"I give St. Francis credit, though. They did a great job against our defense."
Walsh is scheduled to host Cleveland Heights Sept. 21 at 7 p.m.
The Warriors are scheduled to open North Coast League Blue Division play at Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin Sept. 28 at 7 p.m.