Crusaders finally get a home game

COMING HOME — Catholic Central junior Jayden Keeder and the Crusaders welcome Southern Local for their home opener on Saturday. (Photo by Andrew Grimm)

STEUBENVILLE — Catholic Central will face its toughest test to date when it opens its 2018 home season Saturday against Southern Local.

The kick for the first ever meeting between the schools is set for 7 p.m. inside Harding Stadium. Both clubs will enter with 2-0 records, and Central will celebrate Parents Night before the game.

“Southern Local is a very, very good football team,” Central coach Steve Daley said. “They have nice size, athleticism and are very physical. We have our hands full this week, no doubt about it. Three weeks into the season and this is a huge challenge for us.

“Naturally, our kids are going to be excited to be on the home turf. We always preach to the kids that emotion and all that will only carry them so far in a game. We want to be excited about it, we want to be fired up. But, at the same time, we need to have our focus and have our heads on straight.”

The Indians have seen much improvement during the past few years. They won just five games during a three-year span from 2013 to 2015. A season ago, they went 5-5 and lost two games by a total of seven points. Rich Wright is in his fourth season as the Southern Local coach.

Southern opened its season by topping Edison, 39-13. In Week 2, the Indians finished off River, 30-6. That game was halted at halftime on Friday due to a power failure, so Southern had to travel the 85 miles back to Hannibal to complete the contest on Saturday.

“They mix it up well offensively, and they give you a ton of different formations,” Daley said of the Indians. “They do a little bit of everything as far as the run and pass go.

“They have some athletes and a big, physical line. In addition, they have a big, physical fullback, who they like to move from fullback to wing. The quarterback is very athletic. They have a nice halfback and an outstanding wide receiver.”

The fullback Daley mentioned is River Pappas, who played for Edison before transferring to Southern. Junior Jayce Sloan calls the signals for Southern, while fellow junior Dylan Milhorn gets the bulk of the carries.

Cam Grodhaus is the leading receiver for Southern, but also is a threat to run the football. He played a key role for the Indians in 2017 when the offense averaged 36 points per game.

“He (Grodhaus) made a lot of plays for us last year,” Wright said during the preseason.

Southern returned a number of starters to its defensive unit, which allowed an average of 30.3 points per game through the first six weeks of the 2017 season but held opponents to just 8.6 points during the final four weeks. The Indians posted two shutouts during that period.

Linebackers Hunter Morris and Mark Soukup led the unit, while Brad Sloan is a force in the secondary.

Central is off to a 2-0 start for the second time in as many years. The Crusaders blanked Toronto, 35-0, and topped Oak Glen, 41-20.

“We made too many mental mistakes against Oak Glen, and our kids know that,” Daley said. “We had three opportunities inside their 20 during the first half and didn’t come away with any points. Mental mistakes hurt us on all three opportunities. You just can’t make those sort of mistakes.

“When you get inside the red zone, you have to come away with points. I was a little disappointed in that regard. Other than that, we gathered ourselves at the half, and I thought we did a good job in the second half of running the football.”

The Crusaders finished with 433 rushing yards, which Daley believes might be a school single-game record. Three players finished with more than 100 yards.

Senior dual-threat quarterback Justin Hartzell ran for 176 and three scores. Fellow senior Noah Fayak added 109 and a score, while junior Jayden Keeder posted 103 and a TD.

In two games, Hartzell has rushed for 243 yards and four scores, in addition to passing for 266 and four more touchdowns. Keeder has 153 rushing yards. Fayak and Anthony Fallon both have three catches.

As a unit, Central’s offense is averaging an area-best 444 yards per outing to go with 38 points. The Crusader defense is allowing 271 yards per game and 10 points.

Daley said the keys to a CCHS victory on Saturday are pretty much the same as they are any other week.

“We have to be better blockers and tacklers than they are,” he said. “We have to be the mentally tougher team, and we have to win the turnover battle.”

After Saturday’s home game, Central will hit the road again for three consecutive weeks before playing its final four contests at Harding Stadium.