Crusaders face three possibilities

BULLDOZING — Steubenville Catholic Central’s Levi Thompson rushes over Madonna’s Joshua Gasvoda last Thursday. (Photo by Michael D. McElwain)

BEVERLY — Steve Daley and his Catholic Central Crusaders will have a playoff mentality once again Friday when they travel south for a critical Week 10 battle with once-beaten Fort Frye.

“We’ve been telling our kids it’s been playoff season for us the last couple of weeks,” Daley said. “We knew we had to take care of things week in and week out in order to stay in the mix. We’ve been treating the last couple of weeks as the playoffs.

“This one is a little bigger because of what is hinging on the outcome. We could possibly get a home game or we could be facing a long road trip. Obviously, we want to go out and get the win and earn the chance to play at home. It’s a big game — a big game for both teams.”

Fort Frye, which is riding a seven-game winning streak, currently is fourth in the Division VI, Region 23 standings and has clinched a playoff berth. The Crusaders, winner of five in a row, are fifth in the same region.

Should the Crusaders fall Friday, they likely will finish eighth in the standings and travel to Nelsonville-York for the opening round. A Central win coupled with a Shadyside (the Tigers are seventh and play once-beaten Linsly this week) loss could mean Fort Frye will visit Steubenville for the playoff opener.

A third scenario would have Central visiting Shadyside if both teams post Week 10 victories. One thing is known for sure, the official first round games will be finalized over the weekend.

Friday’s game will be the first-ever meeting between the Crusaders and the Cadets. The kick is set for 7 p.m.

A season ago, Fort Frye posted 12 consecutive wins before bowing to Newark Catholic in the regional championship. The Cadets lost 17 regulars from that squad.

The 2017 campaign began with a victory over Belpre followed by a 6-0 loss to Johnstown Northridge. Since then, Fort Frye has whipped arch-rival Waterford, Vincent Warren, Monroe Central, Frontier, Caldwell, Barnesville and Shenandoah. The victory over Shenandoah gave the Cadets a Pioneer Valley Conference championship.

In the past six games, Fort Frye’s defense has allowed just 22 points and has pitched three shutouts. For the season, the Cadets have scored 285 points (32 per game) while allowing 69 (7.6).

“The first thing you notice is they are very, very well-coached on both sides of the ball,” Daley said. “They don’t make many mistakes on offense. I know they had several turnovers in their only loss, but that was in Week 2 to a pretty good Northridge team. They protect the ball. They don’t do a whole lot offensively, but they’re very good at what they do, and they do it from a Wing T. Offensively, they are fundamentally sound.

“Defensively, they use an even front and will make adjustments based on formations. I’m very impressed with their down four and the inside linebackers. That group of six plays downhill hard. They’re not the biggest guys upfront on either side of the ball, but they play with leverage. We have bigger linemen, and that actually could pose a problem for us.”

As Daley noted, the Cadets rely on the run. In the win over Shenandoah, Fort Frye ran for 311 yards. Quarterback Tate Engle, a 5-10, 160-pound junior, directs the Cadet attack.

Sophomore Tyler Fischer (5-9, 143) and senior Tyler Bradford (6-1, 208) get plenty of carries from the wingback position. Against Shenandoah, Fischer had 111 yards and Bradford 71. The fullback is junior Evan Schob (5-9, 210) who ran for 84 in the Week 9 victory.

“They’re primarily a running team, but you have to be aware that Engle threw for more than 1,000 yards last year,” Daley said. “He’s a very capable thrower. They have become more a power running team based on the kids they have this year. They do have a 6-4 receiver (tight end Jesse McLeod), so you have to know where he is on the field because he can give you problems.”

Leading the Cadets up front are senior Cameron Camp (6-2, 227) and junior Logan Isner (6-0, 184).

Central’s offense is averaging 440 yards per game and 41 points. The Crusaders are coming off a 43-7 whipping over previously unbeaten Madonna.

Craig Smith leads Central’s ground game with 1,003 yards. He’s also scored 15 touchdowns. Justin Hartzell has run for 738 and eight scores. In addition, he’s passed for 1,293 yards and 16 touchdowns.

After a huge game against Madonna, Levi Thompson now has 476 yards on the ground and 10 touchdowns. He has 266 receiving yards on 11 catches with five scores.

Geno DiBiase is Central’s top receiver with 15 catches. He averages 22 yards per grab.

“Defensively, Fort Frye hasn’t given up many points and they don’t do anything real fancy,” Daley said. “They have outstanding technique and are fairly good tacklers. They get to the football and they get there quick.

“When you face the kind of defense that Fort Frye plays, you have to be patient offensively. Those big chunk plays we are used to may not come. They may come in smaller chunks, but we can’t expect a big play all the time. We have to be patient and take care of the ball.”

When it comes to the keys for a victory, Daley said there won’t be any changes for his Crusaders.

“As always, we have to protect the ball and take advantage of our opportunities,” he said. “We’re going to try and mix things up, depending on what the defense gives us. We’ve done a fairly good job most of the year of capitalizing on opportunities.

“That’s going to be really important for us this week. Offensively we have to take advantage of our opportunities, and defensively we have to get enough stops of their offense.”

Central and Fort Frye have one common opponent in Barnesville. The Crusaders blanked the Shamrocks 46-0, while the Cadets handed the Belmont County squad a 36-0 setback.

Daley said the plan is for Central to depart about 3 p.m. on Friday for the two-hour bus ride to Washington County.

“We’re trying not to make a big deal out of it,” he said. “We’ve taken a couple of long road trips already this season. Those are our two losses, so the trips didn’t turn out very well. But you can’t look at those losses and say we don’t travel well.

“I thought we played well at Western Reserve, and we played under different circumstances at South Harrison then we have all year. You can’t look at those things and overanalyze them. It’s still the same football when we get off that bus.”