STEUBENVILLE – Steve Daley has a simple recipe for success in the postseason – run the football and play good defense.
His Catholic Central squad did both in Saturday’s Division VII, Region 25 quarterfinal bout with Racine Southern at Harding Stadium.
The Crusaders racked up 182 yards on the ground while their defense caused four turnovers (one was a pick six by Khalil Jones) in scoring a 35-7 victory over the Tornadoes.
With the win, Central, the region’s fourth seed, earns a date next Saturday with top-seeded Glouster Trimble, a 63-0 winner over Beallsville. The location for the semifinal battle will be announced today by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
Central, making its 11th appearance in the playoffs, improves to 9-2 and 12-9 all-time in the Ohio tournament. Southern, a newcomer to the postseason, finishes at 8-3.
“That was a good team win,” Daley said. “In the playoffs, there are two things you have to be able do – play good defense and run the ball. Do we like to throw it? Yes, but the plan going in was to test them on the outside, have them chase us a little bit, then try to hit the off-tackle inside. The kids executed what we planned out.”
Southern, the region’s fifth-seed got on the board first, needing six plays to move 54 yards. Quarterback Tristen Wolfe hit Colton Walters on a slant route for the eight-yard touchdown. Earlier in the drive, Wolfe and Hunter Johnson hooked up for a 32 yard gain. Trenton Deem added the extra point. The score came at the 7:20 mark of the opening period.
“That was a little bit of us settling in,” Daley commented about the early Tornado score. “They didn’t give us anything we hadn’t seen out of them. We were not in position on a couple of plays but we got that corrected. Then, the defense stepped it up.”
Central quickly responded thanks to a 42-yard Jones return on the ensuing kickoff. Starting at the Southern 48, the Crusaders needed seven plays to score. Brenton Colabella drilled a six-yard touchdown pass to Johnny DiCarlantonio, who was standing all alone in the corner of the end zone. John Paul McNamara nailed the conversion.
Both defenses stepped up following Central’s tying touchdown. On its next possession, Southern lost 18 yards (17 of those stripes came thanks to Louis Fallon sacks of Wolfe). The Crusaders went three-and-out before Jimmy Joe Mort and Mark Dettorre combined to stop Southern’s Tyler Barton on third-and-one forcing a Tornado punt.
Central’s next touch ended in a punt and Southern took possession at its 38. On second and 13, Jones intercepted a Wolfe pass and returned it 36 yards for the go-ahead score. McNamara again added the point from placement.
Daley called Jones’ pick “a turning point.”
“It was huge,” he added. “Making a play like that kind of got us going. That was a great play by him, it got our motor running and kind of jump started us.”
Jones’ defensive touchdown closed the first half scoring.
Southern, which came into the contest averaging 240 yards per game on the ground, could muster just 4 on 17 attempts during the opening 24 minutes. Chris Murphy came up big for the Central defense on the final Southern drive of the half, recording one tackle for no gain and another for a loss of two.
Stone Romano also made several key stops for the Crusaders.
“That’s our team concept on defense,” Daley commented. “We stress play your gaps and play your assignments. Our kids did that.”
Following a scoreless third quarter, Central made it 21-7 early in the fourth, going 72 yards after Fallon recovered a Tornado fumble. All but six of the stripes came via the ground. Jones got the score on a 12-yard burst up the middle. He closely followed a huge Romano block through the hole and into the end zone. McNamara’s kick was good again.
Another Southern fumble, caused by Fallon and recovered by Murphy, led to the next Central score. After a motion penalty and a yard loss on a rushing play, Colabella used play action before hitting Aleks Porreca on a go route. The senior wide receiver ran past the defender, caught the pass in full stride and crossed the goal. The pass and run covered 45 yards. McNamara drilled his fourth PAT.
“Creating turnovers throughout the game was big,” Daley noted. “They allowed us to get the ball back in the hands of our offense. We stayed the course on offense and did a great job of executing the plan.”
Ryan Fletcher would stop the next Tornado drive with an interception.
The game’s final score came via a 13-yard run by Jones. It capped a two-play drive covering 25 yards. Central got the great field possession following another stop by its defense. McNamara booted his fifth extra point to close the scoring.
Jones paced Central’s ground attack with 101 yards on 11 carries. Fletcher added 56 on six totes and Murphy 26 on just two trips.
“Our offensive line did a nice job,” Daley noted. “That’s a good group as far as running game goes. They (Southern) were playing real soft on us in coverage and that allowed us to open up some running lanes.”
Colabella threw for 115 stripes and two scores. Porreca finished with four catches.
Southern finished with 138 passing yards and 91 on the ground. Barton who had been averaging 134 stripes per game collected just 27.