STEUBENVILLE - Two of the Ohio Valley's better small school teams, Steubenville Catholic Central and Weirton Madonna, each sporting five straight wins, collide Saturday at 7 p.m. at Harding Stadium.
Each team knows that a win will be key to them making the post season playoffs in their respective states and each also knows that the road to the playoffs doesn't get any easier after this game.
"Central has a great passing game and this year have a run game that complements the pass," said Madonna's second-year coach, Doug Taylor. "And they also are pretty stingy about giving up points. They play a pretty good Magnolia team while we have Toronto and unbeaten Clay-Battelle ahead, but I know they are like us. Just playing it one at a time and not looking ahead."
Sounds like he's describing his own team.
The Crusaders (6-2) are first in team offense among high school football teams in the coverage area of The Herald-Star and The Daily Times, while the Blue Dons (6-1) lead the area in team defense.
Central, coming off a 53-8 win last week over Weir High, has amassed 2,998 yards for an average of 374.7 a game. They score at the rate of 43 points a game.
That compares to Madonna's offense, which in seven games, has 2,715 total yards and scores at the rate of 42.7 a game. The Blue dons are fourth in the area in team offense despite playing one less game that most of the teams.
The Blue Dons, on the other hand, top the area in team defense yielding 1,519 yards in seven games for an average of 217 a game. Opponents have scored just 74 points against the Madonna defense.
"We've got to play mistake free football," said Central mentor Steve Daley. "We can't have turnovers and we have to continue playing defensively the way we've been playing the last four weeks: that's being disciplined and gap sound. Those are the things we have been preaching to the kids.
"We'll go with the same motto we have been going with-every player, every play and we need to follow that for a full 48 minutes this week.
"To be successful, we'll need to take advantage of opportunities when they come and minimize penalties. Little things like that will make a difference in a game like this. We need ball security and we'll try to create turnovers. Things like that can turn a game like this in your direction."
The Central defense has yielded 2,089 total yards in eight games and has given up 132 points.
Each team is led by their quarterback and each team goes into the game with the capability of playing a fast paced, no huddle style of football.
Brenton Colabella, who leads the area with 1,970 passing yards, was very efficient last week against Weir High completing 10 of 12 passes for 142 yards and three touchdowns. The three-year junior starter has 24 touchdown passes on the season.
The Blue Dons counter with junior Ross Comis, who is in his second season as the signal caller. Comis, who is second among the area's rushers despite playing only seven games, has gained 854 yards with an average of 10 yards a trip. He has scored 13 rushing touchdowns.
Comis also is efficient passing the football completing 53 of 80 passes for 782 yards and seven scores.
"They have athletes and they are a good team, very well coached," Daley said of the Blue Dons. "Given the situation they are in with the success they've had, they just seem to reload. They have some starters but they also had some gaps to fill. They seem to find the kids to fill the gaps, and then coach them up."
While each team is capable of the fast-paced style, Taylor said Madonna's game plan includes trying to slow down the Crusader offense by controlling the football and when they can't score, forcing Central to have to drive long distances.
"They are used to scoring in four or five plays," he said. "The longer we make them drive, the better off we'll be. We can't afford to give them a short field."
Taylor also is concerned about the Crusader running game this year.
Senior Doug Maslowski has emerged as one of the better running backs in the area. He ranks third with 752 rushing yards with 85 carries. That's an average of 8.8 a carry and he has scored 12 touchdowns.
"Offensively, we go into each week preparing in a lot of different ways," said Daley. "We prepare for teams to sit back and cover us and we also prepare for teams to load up the box and try to pressure us. We prepare for both aspects and call plays according from there."
Maslowski found the end zone three times last week against the Red Riders. He carried the ball 10 times for 140 yards and scored on runs of 17, 15 and 31 yards.
"Central has a stable of good pass receivers for Colabella to throw to so we have to make sure we don't let them get past our defensive backs," Taylor said. "We have to force them to use the long field and force them into making mistakes then taking advantage of those mistakes.
"All-in-all it has become a good rivalry. Both teams are doing well and have playoff aspirations. It doesn't get any better than that."