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Big play, defense, lead Mount to the top

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Max Otano watched from the sidelines as St. Francis Prep got within a touchdown of his Mount St. Michael football team in the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers, a team built on strong defense, have often found themselves on the wrong side of tight games this season due to an inconsistent offense.

Otano was determined not to let history repeat itself. So, after Prep quarterback Nico Ramirez hit Justin Ortega for a 28-yard touchdown, Mount’s senior quarterback gathered his troops.

“We’re not gonna lose this,” Otano told his teammates.

And on the very next play from scrimmage, he did all he could to make sure of it. After getting pushed back eight yards for holding, back to the Mount 12, Otano hit wide open junior Eddie Cox down the right sidelines for an 88-yard touchdown with 7:46 left in the game.

Do-it-all junior Gary Acquah intercepted a Ramirez pass on the Terriers’ very next play and Mount went on to beat St. Francis, 20-6, on Friday night at Mitchel Athletic Complex.

"Obviously, they’re not looking for pass,” Mountaineers coach Mario Valentini said of the 88-yard touchdown. “If you connect and score, it makes you look like a genius. If not, it backs you up even more.”

It was a play Mount (3-5, 3-3 CHSFL ‘AAA’) could have used all season. The Mountaineers are dominant defensively, but they have 11 new starters after a 2007 season that saw them defeat St. Anthony’s in a regular-season game for the first time since 1998 and fall to the Friars in the CHSFL title game.

The biggest problem with Valentini’s team is that its excellent defense has been on the field too long, courtesy of that still-waiting-to-jell offense. This could have been its breakthrough performance, though.

Otano hit Tommy Cardona on a 21-yard touchdown with 5:38 left in the first half for the game’s first score and the quarterback ran one in from a yard out to make it 12-0 with 34.1 seconds left before the half. Otano found Cardona again on an 11-yard pass down to the 1 to set up that score.

“The ironic thing is two of our touchdowns came on passing,” Valentini said of his team, which is more known for its rushing.

It was certainly a good sign for the Mountaineers, who are still in contention for a ‘AAA’ playoff spot, although St. Anthony’s beckons next week. The top eight teams make the ‘AAA’ postseason, while the bottom four play for the ‘AA’ championship.

“I don’t really think any of the teams that beat us are better than us,” Otano said.

Probably not on defense. Mount was staunch once again, holding St. Francis Prep (4-3, 3-3) without a first down – with the exception of ones caused by penalties – until its second drive of the second half. It was also on that drive that the Terriers lost star running back Bobby Dougherty to a left shoulder injury. The senior was taken to the hospital for tests and his status is uncertain.

Prep was able to mount a comeback without him. Ramirez hooked up with Ortega in the end zone on a serendipitous play to make it 12-6 with 8:29 left to play. Both Ortega and Bryan Caffrey ran post routes to the middle of the field and Ramirez threw to Caffrey, who bobbled it right into the hands of Ortega.

It was the kind of play that turns games around. The Terriers seemed to have all the momentum. Until Otano and Cox snatched it away.

“It,” Otano said of the long scoring strike, “takes the life out of you.”

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