STEUBENVILLE - If the Catholic Central football team is going to qualify for the Division VI playoffs, it will need to go "1 and 0" during each of the next five weeks.
The Crusaders will begin that journey Saturday when the Conotton Valley Rockets invade Harding Stadium. Both teams are 3-2. Kickoff for the CCHS homecoming game is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Fresh off a huge 28-6 victory on the road at Oak Glen, Steve Daley's club vaulted to seventh in the Region 21 computer poll. The win, which allowed Central to match its 2011 victory total, helped the Crusaders accomplish its first half goal of finishing above the .500 mark.
"Going into last week, our goal was to come out of the first half at 3-2," Daley said. "If you look underneath the surface, that means going 1-0 that week. I told the kids the second half starts this week and we need to start it better than we did the first. That means going 1-0 again this week and for the remaining weeks. That's our focus right now."
The second-year Crusader coach was quick to point out "the play of our defense was the key" in the victory against the Golden Bears.
"I can't say enough about the defense," he added. "They played tremendously and kept us in the game, particularly in the fourth quarter."
Central's defense held the usually potent Oak Glen rushing attack to 106 yards on 45 carries. In addition, the Crusaders recorded four quarterback sacks, forced a fumble (Zach Herrington went 39 yards for a score after recovering the loose pigskin) and had an interception.
"Offensively, we didn't see out of our passing game what we normally see as far as putting up big numbers," Daley continued. "However, we made key completions at key times and that was big for us. Mixing in the running game and being successful enough really kept them off balance."
The Crusaders finished with 132 passing yards and collected another 115 on the ground. Doug Maslowski accounted for 101 and a touchdown.
Conotton Valley, under first-year coach Eric Schumacher, started the season with three straight wins over Beallsville, Bellaire St. John and Bridgeport. Since then, the Rockets have fallen to Strasburg (30-27 in overtime) and Newcomerstown (68-28).
Offensively, Daley noted, Conotton Valley will present a look that's "different from what we are used to seeing."
"They have two receivers who are 6-7 (Brandon Bailey and Zack Lyon) and that presents a problem as far as what you do coverage wise against them," he said.
"Then, they like to do things offensively in the Wing T. They have an athletic quarterback (Colton Cottis) who can run and two slot backs (Keaton Carrothers and Taylor Bowdish) that are quick.
"They really stretch a defense by running their jet sweep. While they are doing that, they're always looking to hurt you vertically with the two tall receivers. They can also smash it inside with a trap or an iso so they can really keep a defense off balance."
To combat the CV offense that is averaging 25 points a game, Daley said the Crusaders will need to "play our gaps and let our interior people take care of the run. Then we'll rely on our defensive backs to be athletic enough to make plays when the ball is in the air."
The Rocket defense is surrendering 31 points an outing. It will be tested by a Central offense that averages 35 points and 362 yards.
Brenton Colabella has thrown for an area best 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns. Herrington tops area receivers in catches (23), yardage (428) and scoring grabs (six). Michael Carapellotti, Kyle Laukert and Ryan Fletcher all have 15 receptions apiece.
Maslowski is averaging a shade more than seven yards per trip (381 yards on 53 attempts).
"We want to continue to mix it up offensively," Daley indicated. "We'll take what opportunities are there. If they try to take away the pass like Oak Glen did, then we'll run the ball hopefully with as much or more success. If they are balanced, we'll look to find a mismatch and take advantage of what's there."
Saturday's game marks the start of what could be a challenging second half for the Crusaders. Still on the schedule are games with Barnesville, Magnolia and Madonna, all teams with just one loss. Central also will visit Weir High.
The Crusaders and the Rockets will be meeting for the third time, CCHS holding a 2-0 series lead.