Playoff spots at stake in Thursday special

A Thursday night special with loads of playoff implications headlines the local Week 9 football schedule.

It matches a pair of cross-river rivals (unbeaten Madonna and Catholic Central) and is set for Weir High’s Jimmy Carey Stadium.

Madonna, the surprise team of the year in The Herald Star/Daily Times coverage area, tuned up for the showdown by traveling nearly five hours on a bus and taking out Van 51-30 Friday. Central improved to 6-2 with its 49-13 win over Edison.

“We definitely have a short week, kind of a NFL schedule,” Central coach Steve Daley said following Saturday’s victory at Harding Stadium. “We’ll get right back to work and get ready for an unbeaten team.

“Madonna is a good football team. We definitely will have our hands full with (Donavan) Kirby. They’re riding high and they’re playing with confidence. No doubt about it–they have a nice football team.”

Kirby, Madonna’s phenomenal junior running back, continued to shatter the school record book in the win at Van. He carried the football an amazing 51 times for 370 yards and six touchdowns. He now has 1,897 rushing yards on 252 carries with 23 scores in seven games.

The 7-0 Blue Dons are listed as the fifth best West Virginia Class A team according to

South Harrison, which defeated Central earlier this season, is number one followed by East Hardy, St. Marys, and Midland Trail. After entertaining the Crusaders, Madonna will host Wheeling Central then travel to Clay-Battelle.

The 30 points surrendered by Madonna’s defense against Van were almost as many as the unit had yielded in the first six games combined. The Dons only allowed 38 heading into the game.

Second-year head coach, Darrin Hicks, told his troops not to be alarmed, pointing out that’s the way things are in today’s football world.

“I told them that sometimes that is going to happen, that people are going to score like that,” he said. “Big plays are going to happen with the spread and other types of offenses.”

In Central, Madonna will face an offense averaging 435 yards per game and 41 points. Against Edison, the Crusaders achieved their offensive average.

Craig Smith had another big night, rushing for 108 yards and four touchdowns. For the season, Smith has 873 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Justin Hartzell threw for 146 and another score.

Hartzell added 44 rushing yards, giving him 681 for the year.

Central remains eighth in the Division VI, Region 23 computer standings, according to Joe Eitel. The Crusaders trail Shadyside and Fort Frye, Central’s Week 10 opponent. Fort Frye has a date with once-beaten Shenandoah, the region’s number four team, this week. Shadyside faces Bridgeport and closes with Linsly, another one loss team.

‘D’ stands tall:

Big Red finished the most difficult three-week stretch of its schedule with a dominating 41-3 victory over previously unbeaten New Philadelphia.

Like it did at Dover, the first game of the stretch, and against Ursuline, Big Red’s defense turned in a lights out performance against the Quakers.

New Philadelphia finished with 128 total yards, just two coming through the air. Baron May, the Quaker quarterback, threw for more than 1,300 yards during the first seven weeks of the season.

Against Dover, Big Red allowed just 100 total yards and 10 points. Then, Steubenville held Ursuline to 69 total yards and six points. Thus, during the tough stretch, the defense allowed an average of 99 yards per game and six points.

“Our defense has been playing very well,” Reno Saccoccia said. “Obviously, we need to continue that for the remainder of the season. Our defensive coaches do a great job of getting our players ready.

“We need to keep playing fast and physical on defense and eliminate any type of mistakes. We don’t want to allow our opponents any more yardage than they earn.”

The win over New Philly helped Big Red, again according to Joe Eitel, clinch a home game for the first round of the Division IV, Region 13 playoffs. If the season ended today, Steubenville would host Youngstown Cardinal Mooney. Big Red continues to lead the regional rankings followed by Perry, Cortland Lakeview and Poland.

Big Red will celebrate homecoming Friday when 1-5 Cardinal O’Hara from Tonawanda, N.Y. visits Harding Stadium.

One last time:

The victory over Edison marked the last regular season home game for Central and its seven football seniors.

Playing for perhaps the final time at Harding Stadium were Amin Butler, Jah Sawyer, David Miller, Levi Thompson, Geno DiBiase, Vince Oliver Jr. and Kevin Cuervo.

“I told them before the game your last memory of something is the one that stays with you the longest,” Daley said. “We don’t know if we’ll be back here for Week 11 so tonight might be the last time they play on this field.

“We wanted to send them off with a nice win. Our seniors definitely are a group of hard-working, focused players.”

Two to go:

First-year Edison coach Nate Moses is hoping his Wildcats can cut down on their mistakes during the final two weeks of the season.

“We know our guys are going to continue to work hard,” he said after Saturday’s loss to Central. “We just have to limit our mistakes. If we do that, who knows what might happen during the final two weeks.”

Edison has two home games remaining, hosting Buckeye Local this week before closing against arch-rival Indian Creek.

“Our seniors have to look at things in a certain way,” Moses said. “They basically have two weeks left in their careers. We will continue to challenge these guys to go out there and play hard.”

Edison has six seniors on its roster — Dustin Calhoun, Seth Cade, Kenny Cranston, Tim McCoy, Hunter West and Zak Kestner.

What a night:

To say that Harrison Central’s DeJuan Caldwell had quite a night in Friday’s 48-29 victory over Oak Glen would be a major understatement.

Consider the


Caldwell gained 137 yards on just three carries.

He had touchdown scampers of 65 and 67 yards.

Making his fifth start this season at quarterback, he completed both of his pass attempts for 40 yards, one covering 30 yards for another touchdown.

On defense, he intercepted an Oak Glen pass and raced 46 yards untouched to pay dirt.

Bouncing back:

Playing what veteran coach Andrew Connor felt was its best game of the year, Indian Creek rebounded from a tough loss to Martins Ferry by blanking Beaver Local on senior night.

Junior Brennon Norris, the top passer in The Herald Star/Daily Times coverage area, continued to put up big numbers for the now 5-3 Redskins.

He threw for 247, completing 17 of his 27 passes, and four touchdowns.

“Norris runs the offense very well, I’m very proud of him,” Connor said. “He distributes the football. He finds guys when they are open. He’s a very good one.”

Devin Eakle caught six Norris aerials in the victory for 89 yards and two scores. He leads area receivers with 37 catches for 552 yards.

Trevor Fante added 91 yards on the ground for Creek, which visits Columbiana Crestview this week.

Playoff updates:

Despite its three-game losing streak, Toronto remains in the hunt for a spot in the Division VII, Region 25 playoffs.

The 4-4 Red Knights continue to hold down the eighth spot, according to Joe Eitel. Toronto needs a victory this week against 4-4 United, a Division VI club, to keep its hopes alive.

Meanwhile, Indian Creek stands 16th in Division III, Region 11 while Harrison Central is 13th in Region 13. St. Clairsville, Eitel says, has clinched a spot in the Division IV, Region 15 playoffs.

Union Local and Martins Ferry remain in contention in Division V, Region 19.

Weir’s 5-3 Red Riders, according to, are 18th in the state’s Class AA standings. Weir closes its regular seasons with home games against East Liverpool and Brooke and definitely needs two wins to keep its playoff hopes alive.

Grand club:

Three local quarterbacks topped the 1,000 yard passing mark over the weekend.

Central’s Hartzell’s now has thrown for 1,127 and an area-leading 14 touchdowns. Nate Karaffa from Toronto now 1,045 passing yards. He’s thrown for 10 six-pointers.

Oak Glen freshman Nick Chaney has compiled 1,019 yards and seven scores.

Angel of the 18s:

Instead of charging onto the field for its regular season home finale Saturday, Catholic Central took a different approach.

The Crusaders walked onto Reno Field, arm in arm, carrying purple balloons. Once they reached the end zone, they knelt and prayed before releasing the balloons.

It was all part of a tribute to Cynthia Phillipson, who unfortunately passed away in 2014. Cynthia would be a senior at Central this school year. She is now referred to as the Angel of the 18s.

Her favorite color was purple and many Central supporters attending the game wore that color. Cynthia also was a Royalette with the Crusader band and she was honored at halftime along with other band seniors.

Top stats:

Running wild

≤ 370, Donavan Kirby, Madonna, 6 touchdowns

≤ 149, Blake Almo, Oak Glen, touchdown

≤ 137, DeJuan Caldwell, Harrison Central, 2 touchdowns

≤ 133, Jacob Bernard, Big Red, 3 touchdowns

≤ 122, Tyler West, Harrison Central, 3 touchdowns

≤ 120, Nate Karaffa, Toronto, 2 touchdowns

≤ 91, Tyler Mack, Weir High, touchdown

≤ 91, Trevor Fante, Indian Creek, touchdown

≤ 90, Gage Yost, Brooke, touchdown


≤ 247, Brennon Norris, Indian Creek, 17 of 27, 4 scores

≤ 192, Shane Christian, Buckeye Local, 16 of 28, score

≤ 154, Sebastian Spencer, Weir High, 9 of 13, 3 scores

≤ 146, Justin Hartzell, Catholic Central, 10 of 15, score

≤ 136, Javon Davis, Big Red, 12 of 15, 2 scores

≤ 112, Gage Yost, Brooke, 10 of 22

Hands team

≤ 6, Devin Eakle, Indian Creek, 89, 2 touchdowns

≤ 5, Kaden Weaver, Buckeye Local, 58

≤ 5, Johnny Agresta, Big Red, 52

≤ 4, John Marelli, Buckeye Local, 44

≤ 4, Nick Sninchak, Toronto, 40

≤ 4, Jah Sawyer, Catholic Central, 39

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Sports correspondent Ralph Cox also contributed to this story.)