Crusaders limp into Saturday
STEUBENVILLE — Another week, another difficult opponent — so it goes for Steve Daley and his banged up Catholic Central Crusaders.
Coming off two tough road losses at 3-1 Western Reserve and 3-0 South Harrison, the Crusaders will return to Harding Stadium Saturday, welcoming once-beaten Warren John F. Kennedy, the defending Ohio Division VII champion.
The Eagles opened with a victory over Champion before taking out LaBrae in double overtime. They then fell to unbeaten Girard before rallying for a 28-14 victory over Crestview.
Saturday’s meeting will be the 12th all-time between the scores, JFK holding a commanding 9-2 series lead. The Eagles have won the last six encounters. The kick is set for 7 p.m.
“They are a very, very good football team,” Daley said about the Eagles, who are fourth in the Division VII, Region 25 computer standings. “You can’t really look at the loss to Girard as an indicator of what type of team JFK is. Girard is Division VI and is a pretty good football team also.
“JFK was down 14-0 against Crestview last week, stormed back, took control of the game and won by two scores. They are one of the top teams in Division VII once again.”
Girard, by the way, is sixth in the Division IV Region 13 rankings. Big Red leads that region.
Coach Jeff Bayuk lost a boat of load of talent from his 2016 squad that scored 24 unanswered points to defeat Minister 24-6 for an Ohio championship last December.
Greg Valent (6-1, 190 pounds) is back at quarterback for the Eagles. His leading receiver, Hyland Burton, also returns. A 6-3, 165-pound senior, Burton caught 21 passes for six touchdowns a season ago. Ross DeSalvo (6-0, 200) mans the tight end spot for JFK with Alex Burzynski (5-11, 170) in the slot.
Dom Scott (5-9, 175) and Isaac Hadley (6-0, 225) pace the JFK ground game.
Hadley had 138 yards on just nine carries in the win over Crestview. After getting just 81 yards rushing in the first half, JFK compiled 231 in the second to finish with 312.
“They have speed all over,” Daley said. “They want to run it at you, but they also are very capable of throwing it as well. Burton is an athlete. He has height, he has speed and he has good hands.
“They do want to run the ball first, but they also will throw it when they want. They have nice size up front, so we won’t have any advantage there.”
The size up front includes Ibrahim Hindi, a 6-2, 295-pound junior, and Alex Hernandez, also a junior who goes 6-3, 280.
Central is coming off a rough road trip to South Harrison. The Hawks rolled to 358 yards on the ground and six touchdowns. The Crusaders were down 34-0 at halftime.
Daley also lost two players in the game to injuries in junior Anthony Fallon and sophomore Anthony Simmons. At Monday’s practice, Central had 22 players in uniform
“I thought we had a good practice on Tuesday,” Daley said. “When the kids came in Monday, we didn’t even look at Friday night. We know what mistakes we made and our kids know what they have to focus on.
“We’ve got to work on those things. We’re not going to keep rehashing the fact that we didn’t play well Friday. We just have to bounce back now.”
In four games, Central is averaging 409 yards of offense and 36 points.
Junior quarterback Justin Hartzell is off to a solid start. He’s thrown for 601 yards and eight touchdowns, while adding 364 yards on the ground. Craig Smith, also a junior, has collected 285 rushing yards.
With Fallon out, senior Geno DiBiase now leads Central in receptions with six for 161 yards. Jah Sawyer has five catches.
Defensively, the Crusaders are allowing 345 yards per game and 33 points.
Saturday’s home game is the first of four straight for Central. Barnesville visits next week and St. Mary’s from Lancaster, N.Y. invades the valley Oct. 7. Central then entertains Edison.
“Our guys know that some of our goals for the season are still attainable,” Daley said. “There are still points available out there. We’re going to work hard, prepare and give it our best shot come Saturday night.”