STEUBENVILLE - Catholic Central will look to pocket its fourth straight win Saturday when Barnesville invades Harding Stadium.
Kickoff for the third meeting between the schools (Barnesville holds a 2-0 lead) is set for 7 p.m. The teams, both sporting 4-2 marks, are alive and well in the hunt for an Ohio playoff spot. Central stands seventh in Region 21 of Division VI while the Shamrocks are ninth in Division V's Region 17.
Following the tough week three loss to Columbiana, Central has knocked off Toronto (49-7), Oak Glen (28-6) and Conotton Valley (54-7). Barnesville under first year coach Matt Johnson dropped its opener to John Glenn then bested Meadowbrook, Union Local, Buckeye Trail and Shenandoah. The Shamrocks' streak ended with a surprising 25-7 defeat to previously winless Caldwell.
During the three-game streak, Central's Air Daley offense has compiled its typical impressive numbers. Meanwhile, the Crusader defense has shown constant improvement, allowing just 20 points after surrendering 80 the first three weeks. The recent effort prompted Steve Daley to shower the unit with some praise.
"The defense definitely has come into its own," Daley said. "It's not that we played bad defensively in the two losses. We played fairly well for the majority of those games. For whatever reason, we had some letdowns and some mental lapses that they cost us.
"We've stressed the fundamental things and the need to do individual things properly. We tell them if they do their jobs, we'll turn out OK. It's not that we expect them to make a play every time, but if they do their jobs that will allow someone else to make the play."
The Crusader boss has been preaching this slogan to his defense: "every player, every play."
"We tell them that if they do their job on every play, things are going to work out," he added.
Daley noted the Crusaders have been running some more 3-4 the last few weeks even though the staff still "considers ourselves a base 4-3 defensive team. The 3-4 gives us some flexibility to adjust to the formations and motion we have seen out teams we've played recently."
Defensive success, Daley believes, starts "with your interior."
"Steve Butto has been doing a heck of a job for us," Daley said. "He's doing the things we are asking him to do inside and is keeping people off of our linebackers. Our linebackers Kevan Zapolnik, Stone Romano and Chris Murphy have really stepped it up and are doing a nice job.
"Our ends Jake McCann and Geno Taglione have really come on too, so our inside seven as a whole is doing a nice job."
Daley indicated the Crusaders are getting "nice support on the outside from corners Kyle Laukert and Khalil Jones. They are holding teams up; especially with the jet sweeps we've been seeing and keeping their leverage. This has allowed our athletic guys (safeties Ryan Fletcher and Aleks Porreca) to fill the lanes and make plays. That's really how it has been working the last couple of weeks."
Barnesville, Daley said, is "not as a big up front as we have seen in the last few years, but they still have size. In addition, they have some athletes like they normally do."
One of those athletes is quarterback Kyle Yaquinta. Through six games, the senior has thrown for 693 yards and seven touchdowns. In the win over Shenandoah, he passed for 160 stripes and a pair of scores while running for 52 and two more touchdowns.
"Their quarterback gets them going," Daley noted. "He's a tough runner on the inside, that's one of the things we have to be concerned with. He also throws the ball well."
Wide receivers Kyle McIntire and Colton Pritchard are two other Shamrocks Daley said "have good speed and are athletic. They want to get the ball to those guys."
"So you have three athletes that we have to concern ourselves with," Daley added. "We need to know where they are at all times."
Brandon Burkhart and Pritchard along with Yaquinta power the Barnesville ground game.
"They're another team that runs the jet sweep and they'll run some counter action off it," Daley indicated. "We can't fall asleep, we need to be disciplined and read our keys."
Through six games, the Crusader offense is averaging 360 yards an outing and 39 points.
Brenton Colabella, the top passer in The Herald Star/Daily Times coverage area, has thrown for 1,617 stripes and 21 touchdowns. He's completing 61 percent of his attempts.
Zach Herrington leads the area in receptions (27), yardage (485) and scoring grabs (eight). Laukert and Fletcher have 18 catches while Michael Carapellotti has 15.