Trojans fall short in another thrilling finish

MOUNT UNION – The game of football finally found a mountain too high for Mount Union to climb this season – although the valley floor the Trojans found themselves on at the end of Friday’s game was awfully close to the peak.

Despite five turnovers – four fumbles and an interception – there the Trojans were first-and-goal on Forest Hills’ 9-yard line with less than two minutes to play still with a chance to win their District 6 Class AA quarterfinal game.

Despite having an extra point attempt blocked earlier that would have tied the game – there the Trojans were with a chance to win.

Despite having penalties seemingly too numerous to count in both volume and yardage – there Mount Union was with the game in its hands.

But then turnover No. 6 happened.

The Rangers’ Joe Donoghue stepped in front of a pass intended for Mount Union’s Cole House along the sideline in the end zone and finally did what so many teams have failed to do this year – land a knockout blow on the chin of the blue and gold.

Forest Hills held on for dear life to nip the Trojans 14-13 and end Mount Union’s surprising season.

As the game was nearing its conclusion, Forest Hills coach Don Bailey was preparing for what he thought was inevitable – having to try and block another Mount Union kick with the game on the line.

“I thought for sure they were just worried about getting a field goal to be honest with you because they’ve got a good kicker,” Bailey said. “I just thought three points was gonna win it just the same as a touchdown. … We were worried they were going to be in position for a field goal and we would’ve had to block it again.”

In a way, it should have been easy to predict that the game would be close at the end despite the Trojans trailing 14-0 at halftime. Mount Union has seemingly made a habit of rallying from off the pace to steal it at the final gun this season.

“(The game) was entertaining,” a visibly disappointed Mount Union coach Dayton Shugarts said. “They had their shots. We had our shots. … I, honest to God, thought we were gonna push it in and go up … These kids played their hearts out. They’ve come back time after time after time. They could’ve very easily gone in there down 14-0 at the half and cashed it in, but they just kept coming and coming and coming.”

Mount Union had pulled to within a score at 14-7 by the end of the third quarter and not long after that put the ball into the end zone again.

But because this team hasn’t done much the easy way this season, the kick was blocked – although Shugarts said after the game that he had tried to convince his assistants to run a fake kick in a gambit to take the lead.

As the game moved into the latter stages of the fourth quarter, Forest Hills was able to convert a couple of key third and fourth down plays to take precious time off the clock and force Mount Union to exhaust its supply of timeouts – almost.

The Rangers left an opening for their hosts as a quarterback rollout on third down turned into a quarterback pushed out – of bounds that is, allowing the Trojans to keep a valuable timeout for the final charge up the field.

The fourth down pass fell harmlessly to the ground and Mount Union seemed poised for another episode of “The Cardiac Trojans Do It Again.”

Mount Union moved deep into the Rangers end of the field seemingly easily, pushing the ball – and the game – to its climax just nine yards from another thrilling victory before the pick dealt the Trojans a blow from which they could not recover.

“It’s kind of bittersweet for it to end like this, but I knew it was gonna have to eventually end like this sooner or later,” Shugarts said. “I have no regrets for this whole year. … It’s been a pleasure for an old man to come back and coach a group of kids like this and to do what they did. It was absolutely phenomenal. I love every one of them.”

Given how this season unfolded, I wouldn’t be surprised if the comeback kids of the comeback program do what they do best – come back strong in 2014.

Sentinel city editor Brian Cox – a former football player at Mount Union Area High School – can be reached at