Dom Molinaro’s eyes didn’t wander away from the sidelines despite the chaos around him.
The Brashear senior kicker had a single thought.
“I was just focused on kicking,” Molinaro said.
While warming up with holder Nick Roell, Molinaro believed his teammates would put him in the best position during the waning seconds of a City League semifinal playoff game Thursday at Cupples Stadium.
Richard Stone’s long kick return, followed by three completions from Sha’rron Steave to Daquay Brown, set up Molinaro for a 35-yard attempt with 5 seconds left.
Molinaro drilled that one and a 27-yarder in double overtime to help the No. 3 Bulls take down No. 2 Westinghouse, 23-20. Brashear, the two-time defending champion, will take on the winner of No. 1 USO and No. 4 Perry next week in the title game.
Having a stout kicker gave Brashear coach Rick Murphy confidence. After both teams lost fumbles on their first carries of overtime, Murphy went with a sure thing.
Molinaro, who also made a 39-yard field goal in the first quarter, was the safest bet for the Bulls (4-5).
“Kick the field goal,” Murphy said about his thought process in double overtime. “We had the wind at our back, and we know we have one of the best kickers around. When they fumbled, we talked about it and said let’s run two plays and see what we need to do on third down. Thank God we got another chance.”
Westinghouse, which was in the City League playoffs for the first time in 15 years, needed a Herculean effort to stay in the game.
A Molinaro field goal and two touchdown receptions by Stone — of 20 and 39 yards — had the Bulls ahead 17-0 after the first quarter.
Westinghouse wasted several prime scoring opportunities. The Bulls stacked the Bulldogs up inside the 10-yard line three times, including twice in overtime.
“We knew their system, they like to pack them in and try to run the football,” Murphy said. “We filled the gaps, kid flowed to the ball and they stuck together when things went bad. The theme to this season was missed opportunities, and we capitalized on our chances.”
How the Bulldogs responded, by rallying to take a 20-17 lead with 34 seconds left, left Westinghouse coach Monte Robinson feeling vindicated.
“It proves to them that they aren’t losers,” Robinson said. “No one saw this coming; we saw it coming. At the beginning of the year, we saw something in them they didn’t see in themselves. I think they found that today. To come down from 17 in a playoff game is huge.”
The Bulldogs responded behind the excellent play of Wade Yurko, who finished with 128 rushing yards. Yurko’s 55-yard run set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Quame Gaines in the second quarter. Yurko also caught a 24-yard score in the third.
Gaines’ 1-yard TD run gave Westinghouse the lead late.
In overtime, Yurko fumbled on the first play and Brashear recovered. The Bulls’ Phil Nappier fumbled to open their first possession, and Westinghouse recovered.
Molinaro settled the madness with his cool demeanor.
With his coaches’ confidence, he didn’t have any other thoughts.
“I had to (make it),” Molinaro said.
Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer.