Crusaders run past Toronto

STEUBENVILLE – The first seven-plus minutes of Saturday’s Toronto-Catholic Central football game belonged to the Red Knights. After that, it was all blue and gold.

Combining its patented quick strike offense with a downright nasty defense, Central rolled to a 42-3 win on the turf at Harding Stadium.

With the victory, the Crusaders, who was ranked seventh in the first-ever Ohio Division VII poll, improve to 4-0. The Red Knights fell to 2-2. The game was the 41st between the Jefferson County schools, CCHS now holding a 30-10-1 series lead.

Toronto took the opening kickoff and chewed up 7:37 off the first quarter clock, marching from its own 27 to the Crusader 2. The Glenn brothers (sophomore quarterback Blaze and senior tailback Chez) collected all the Red Knight yardage via the ground.

Eric Meek’s club caught a huge break when Central penetrated the neutral zone on fourth and eight from the CCHS 45. B. Glenn then took the snap from punt formation, tucked the ball away and gained six yards, giving Toronto new life.

C. Glenn then sprinted up the middle for 32 and a first down at the Central 2. That’s when the Crusader defense stiffened and the tide started to turn.

On first and goal, C. Glenn was dropped for a two-yard loss by Jake McCann. McCann delivered again on second, nailing B. Glenn for a loss of two more stripes. B. Glenn’s pass on third down fell incomplete. Meek then called on Danny Zdinak to try a field goal and the freshman responded by splitting the uprights from 29 yards out.

“Jake is quick and physical,” Central’s Steve Daley said of his senior linebacker. “He played tonight the way we know he is capable of playing. He stepped it up a notch on that first drive and I’m happy for him in that regard.”

Central launched its first possession of the game from its own 35. The quick-strike Crusaders needed just four snaps to take the lead for good.

Hard-running junior fullback Stone Romano covered 36 of the 65 stripes when he burst up the middle and sprinted to the Red Knight 25. On second and 10, senior quarterback Brenton Colabella rolled to his right, avoided the Toronto pass rush and found senior slot back Ryan Fletcher all alone. John-Paul McNamara booted the extra point.

Central’s next score took just two plays (the defense held Toronto to just one yard of offense before forcing a punt). After Colabella threw an incompletion, speedy senior Khalil Jones dodged a couple of tacklers, broke free and sprinted 49 yards. McNamara split the uprights again.

The defense delivered again (senior Jimmy Joe Mort recording a quarterback sack) and Central was back in business at the Toronto 46. Five plays later, it was 21-3. Romano rumbled through a huge hole for a nine-yard touchdown. The key play on the Central drive was a 26-yard Colabella to Fletcher completion. Fletcher made a spectacular one-handed grab to give the Crusaders a first down at the Red Knight 19.

The final Central touchdown of the first half capped a three-play 70 yard drive. Colabella found Fletcher again, this time wide open over the middle, for a 49-yard scoring strike. McNamara’s conversion kicked was true again.

Central ran just 17 first-half plays, scoring four times and compiling 235 yards of offense (119 rushing and 116 passing).

Toronto, on the other hand, moved 61 stripes on its first possession but could only muster 10 yards on its next five touches.

Senior Marty Engle recorded two tackles behind the line for the Crusaders on those five Toronto possessions while senior Louis Fallon was all over the field making plays.

“It was great,” Meek said of his team’s opening march. “We took about eight minutes off the clock. We would rather have scored seven than three but we looked good. After that, it was all them.

“Give them credit. They have a veteran team and a good team. They’re going to win a lot of games. I’m disappointed with the final score because I thought we would make it more of a ball game.”

Meek continued by pointing out “we’re going to be a veteran team someday.”

“We have some young kids that are playing hard,” he added. “We have four senior dominated teams on our schedule. We’ve lost to two of them and we have to more down the road. We’ll try to knock those other two off as well as win some other games. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ll regroup, be positive, correct the mistakes and move forward in the right direction.”

Daley said the rise of his defense simply was a matter of “settling down.”

“We were a little keyed up and were not being as disciplined as we needed to be on that first drive,” he stated. “After we got that out of our system, the defense did a great job.”

Daley’s club stayed in the quick strike mode to start the third quarter, getting two scores off Toronto fumbles (junior Chris Murphy recovering one and the other).

Jones recorded both touchdowns, going 21 yards up the gut for his second six-pointer of the evening and 15 for number three. He finished the night with four carries for 91 stripes and three six-pointers.

“He’s just an outstanding athlete and we know what he can do,” Daley said of Jones. “He made some great runs tonight. When he sees an opening, he wants to get to the end zone.”

Central’s offense compiled 396 yards (259 rushing and 137 passing) in rolling to the victory. Murphy finished with 68 yards on nine trips. Colabella hit on seven of 12 passes. Fletcher grabbed five for 108 and two touchdowns.

“We do want to be as balanced as possible offensively,” Daley noted. “We can grind it out a times, which we did in the second half. We know we can score quickly. But there are times when we want to run some clock.”

Daley was happy with his offensive line’s performance, stating “our pass protection was better than it was against Columbiana. It’s not where we need to be need so we still need to improve.”

Meek used just one word to describe the Central offense: “explosive.”

“Colabella’s been there a long time and they know what they are doing,” he said. “We tried to pressure him and it just didn’t always work. At times, we did get pressure but he was able to get out of it. It’s hard to run with those receivers that long. That was an issue for us.

The Red Knight offense finished with just 139 yards (93 via the ground and 46 through the air). On their final 10 possessions, Meek’s gridders compiled just 78 stripes.

“We were just unable to move the ball on the ground effectively at times,” Meek stated. “When you can’t move the ball and you are facing a high-powered offense like that, it makes for a long night.”

Central will celebrate homecoming this Saturday, entertaining Oak Glen. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. Toronto will stay on the road, traveling to 4-0 Shadyside Friday.