MOGADORE - Catholic Central faces a huge challenge Friday when it travels to Summit County for a date with powerful Mogadore.
The 6-4 Crusaders, losers of two in a row, earned the eighth seed in Division VI Region 21 thanks to their body of work during the 2012 season. The top-seeded Wildcats ran through the regular season unbeaten and, earlier this week, captured their sixth Associated Press poll state championship.
Champions of the Portage Trail Conference County Division, Mogadore won eight of its 10 games by double-digits, including all seven league matchups. The team's average margin of victory this season was 23.6 points.
Kickoff for Friday's contest is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
The Wildcats, who earned the 600th victory in school history earlier this season, have qualified for the playoffs 14 years in a row and 26 times overall. They have captured three state titles and sport a 46-22 postseason record.
Central, of course, is no stranger to the playoffs either. The Crusaders, who last made it in 2007, will make their 10th appearance and earned an Ohio championship in 1993. The last meeting between the schools came in the 2005 playoffs, Central recording a 35-13 win.
"We know we have our work cut out for us with Mogadore," Steve Daley said. "But, at the same time, they have to deal with us too and that's the way we have to look at things."
For Central, the winning record was the first in four seasons. Daley indicated that was one of the goals set by his team.
"At the beginning of the season, the kids wanted to have a winning record and make the playoffs," he noted. "They worked really hard to achieve both goals and here we are.
"Now starts a new season. We've preached every week go 1-0 each week and we were able to do that six times. Now, it's a situation of you have no choice - you have to go 1-0 or you're done. We got in, we're here and now teams have to deal with us. That is the attitude and approach we are taking. We're not looking at seeds; we're just realizing we're in."
In order to go 1-0 in Week 11, Central will need to slow the Mogadore offense which is averaging 39 points a game. The offense is powered by workhorse running back Gary Strain (6-1, 205). He wasn't expected back until midseason due to a broken foot suffered during the summer, but he missed just two games and has rushed for more than 1,250 yards and 17 TD's.
"Strain is their guy," Daley said. "He has good size and they try to get him the ball any way they can. They'll hand it off to him, pitch it to him, screen it to him and throw it to him. They'll try to get him the ball 40 times a game if they can. That's the guy that has to be our focus, the guy we have to stop.
"At the same time, they have some other guys who can hurt you too. They'll lull you to sleep with the run, and then hit you with the play action."
Strain is complimented by junior quarterback Anthony Ricci (5-10, 155) and wide receiver Kasey Beard (6-3, 170). Brandon Berry (5-8, 165) also carries the rock for the Wildcats.
As far as the matchup goes, Daley noted Mogadore has only faced one spread team (Peninsula Woodridge) this season. The Wildcats escaped that contest against the Division III Bulldogs with a 35-28 victory.
"That was one of the films we were able to study," Daley said. "If you are not use to seeing it (the spread attack) and not use to practicing against it that could cause them some difficulty. I'm sure they'll do some things differently and I'm sure they've seen what some teams have done against us."
Junior Brenton Colabella directs the Crusader spread offense. The school's all-time passing leader finished the regular season with 2,163 yards and 25 touchdowns. He has hit on 60 percent of his attempts.
Senior Zach Herrington has hauled in 39 Colabella tosses for 698 stripes and 10 scores. Colabella has found Kyle Laukert, another senior, 30 times for 549 and five TD's.
Doug Maslowski leads the Central rushing attack with 808 yards and 14 touchdowns. The senior missed the Magnolia game but will be a full strength come Friday.
"Going into this season, we talked about our performance during the second half of last season and the progress we made," Daley added. "We have taken another step forward this year. We are back where we should be. This school has a good playoff history and it's nice to be back in the postseason conversation."