WELLSVILLE - The Tigers got the push they needed.
After Wellsville took a three-touchdown lead midway through the third quarter, Leetonia rallied down the stretch and had four shots in the game's final minute from the Tigers 1-yard line to tie the game.
Wellsville answered the call each time.
The Tigers stuffed the Bears on four consecutive run plays in the final seconds to hold on to a hard-fought 28-21 win on Friday at Nicholson Stadium.
Wellsville seniors Jeff McMahon and Vance Thomas were in the middle of the Tigers defense that kept the Bears out of the end zone to secure the victory.
"We just kept pounding," the 6-foot-1, 285-pound McMahon said after the game. "We knew we had to stop them. We were going after whoever had it. It came down to who had more pride and who wanted it more. Coach (Dave Skinner) told us that he needed the best push he could get out of us. We just wanted it more."
Leetonia turned to Zack VanGiessen and finally senior quarterback Cody Stokes on the games final plays, but both came us just inches short of tying the game.
"I've got a 6-4 quarterback, so obviously I'm going to run him behind our line from one-yard out," Leetonia coach Matt Altomare said. "I guess we just came up a few inches short. I really am proud of the way my guys battled."
Wellsville coach Dave Skinner said his senior defensive lineman stepped up when the team needed them most.
"The push we got out of the middle of our line was amazing," Skinner said. "Everybody in the house knew what was coming. We were in a goaline gap defense and our two defensive tackles (McMahon and Thomas) were squeezing the center. Those two were going both ways (offense and defense) for the first time this year. For them to get that kind of push at the end of the game says a lot about their character."
Wellsville (4-5) opened the scoring with a 9-play, 86-yard drive that took 4:36 off the clock midway through the first quarter. It ended with a 13-yard scoring pass from Jake Reed to Matt Broughton.
Leetonia (3-6) answered quickly, tying the game, 7-7, when R.J. Pacella found the edge and the end zone from 13 yards out.
Late in the first half, a snap sailed over the head of the Leetonia punter and was recovered by Wellsville on the Bears' 14-yard line.
The Tigers would capitalize when McMahon found paydirt from one-yard out, giving his team a 14-7 lead at the break.
"I love when they give me the ball," McMahon said. "I can smell the end zone and I know I'm going to get in."
The game appeared to be in Wellsville's total control after the opening drive of the second half.
The Tigers marched down the field with 15 straight running plays out of the Stack-I, covering 65 yards and taking 6:57 off the clock. Brendon Carr would finish the drive off with a four-yard touchdown run and Wellsville led, 28-14.
But the Bears wouldn't go away.
"When you're dealing with teenagers, it would have been easy for them to pack it in," Altomare said of his team. "But they didn't do that. They kept fighting and believing. I give them a lot of credit for the type of game they played."
Leetonia backed Wellsville deep into its own territory and forced a punt. That kick was blocked setting up the Bears with a 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard line.
VanGiessen would reach paydirt, pulling Leetonia within two scores.
The Bears recovered the ensuing onside kick, but the Tigers would get a stop.
Stokes came out firing, however, on Leetonia's next possession marching the Bears on a 79-yard drive that took just 1:30 off the clock and was capped by a touchdown pass to Pacella. That brought the score to 28-21 with 5:06 left in the game.
After a Wellsville 3-and-out, Leetonia took over at its own 44-yard line. Stokes - who missed a series earlier in the game with an injury - was poised in the pocket and led the Bears to a first down just outside the Tigers 10-yard line.
Starting with a 3rd-and-1 at the 1-yard line and ending in a 2nd-and-goal from the 1, the Wellsville defense rose to the occasion and stuffed the Bears as time expired.
"You've got to give Leetonia credit," Skinner said. "They kept battling. But the same is true of our guys. We could have folded when they started that rally."
Skinner was especially proud of his coaching staff which prepared his team to play while they were missing several starters.
"When you see all those guys on the sidelines in jeans, you can get discouraged," he said. "It's a credit to the seniors and the coaches who did a phenomenal job getting them ready to play. We had a lot of holes to fill."
With the win, Wellsville is still clinging to a shot at the postseason. Coming into the game, the Tigers sat at No. 11 in Division VI, Region 21. The top eight advance to the playoffs. Wellsville will host Jackson-Milton next week in the regular season finale.
"If we win next week and get to No. 8, then I guess we're a playoff team," Skinner said. "We're just going to come out and play. This is a different group, but I like them. I've got a lot of characters on the team, but the team has a lot of character."
Leetonia will host Lowellville next week.
"Something has got to change for us," Altomare said. "Four of our six losses have been like this."