Crusaders must win out for a shot at playoffs with Wildcats coming to town

STEUBENVILLE — Steve Daley and his Steubenville Catholic Central Crusaders have a one goal for the final three weeks of the season — take care of business.

Thanks to three straight wins, Central stands at 5-2 and is currently ranked eighth in the Division VI, Region 23 computer standings. The Crusaders probably need to win out in order to secure their first playoff berth since 2013.

Up next for Central is a Saturday date with county rival Edison inside Harding Stadium. The kick for the fifth all-time meeting between the schools is set for 7 p.m.

“Our kids know that it’s in their hands,” Daley said. “They have to take care of business each week in order to get to where they want to go. I don’t think they need any more reminders than that.”

Edison and Central played from 2007-2009 before renewing their rivalry a season ago, the Crusaders hanging on for a 40-39 road victory. Central has a 3-1 lead in the series.

“I know they’ll be up for the game because it’s us and Edison,” Daley said. “We renewed the rivalry last year, and it was a heck of a game. I’m sure they haven’t forgotten it. The game came down to a two-point conversion they weren’t able to convert. They are going to come in hungry and ready to play.

“If you look at our schedule, there aren’t many local games on it this year. The kids have grown up playing each other in various sports. They’re familiar with each other. That adds something to the game. It helps you focus because you know who your opponents are.”

First-year Edison coach Nate Moses attended last season’s game and recalls Central taking command early before Edison’s comeback fell a little short.

“These are different teams,” he said. “This is a different year. That is back in the past. Those two teams aren’t playing again. Central is going to be a challenge for us.

“I don’t know if you can call this game a rivalry. The teams have played in the past, but they didn’t play for a while. We’re both Jefferson County teams, and they haven’t played another team from the county this year.”

Moses and his Wildcats are 1-6, their lone victory coming against Oak Glen, the only common opponent between the schools. Edison whipped the Golden Bears 26-14, while Central recorded a 63-28 triumph in Week 2.

Edison, which fell to Harrison Central 41-0 in its last outing, averages 180 offensive yards per outing and eight points. Central, on the other hand, goes for 435 per contest, 295 coming on the ground, and an area best 39.5 points per game.

“We need to do a better job at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Moses said when reflecting on the loss to Harrison Central. “We have to be better on our first step. They played on our side of the line on both sides of the ball. We have to be able to give our running backs a chance.”

Defensively, the Crusaders allow 277 yards a game, 161 coming via the ground, and 24 points. Opponents of the Wildcats have been getting 329 per game (264 rushing) and 32 points.

Senior Seth Cade leads Edison’s rushing attack with 527 and two touchdowns. He went for more than 300 in the victory over Oak Glen. Junior River Pappas has contributed 124 and a score.

Kenny Cranston, Edison’s senior quarterback, has thrown for 305 and three scores. Junior Bryce McAfoose has 11 catches for 100 years, while Logan Hanchin has hauled in nine for 116. Kaleb Waggoner also had nine grabs.

“Cade is a tough runner, and he had a big game against us last year,” Daley said. “Pappas can run it as well. But we can’t focus too much on the run because then they will play action us and hurt us deep. They have some balance, and they can hurt you with the run and the pass. Edison has a nice offensive line also, so we know defensively we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”

Craig Smith is Central’s top ball carrier, collecting 765 yards. Justin Hartzell, who is a junior like Smith, has contributed 637 and seven scores. Senior Levi Thompson averages 10 yards each time he totes the pigskin. He’s also found the end zone seven times.

Hartzell, who threw for 192 and three touchdowns in last week’s 47-14 win over St. Mary’s of Lancaster, N.Y., now has 981 passing yards and 13 touchdowns. Senior Geno DiBiase has 11 grabs for 253, while Thompson has seven catches. Noah Fayak, playing for the first time since suffering a Week 2 shoulder injury, had two catches for two scores against St. Mary’s. Senior David Miller caught three Hartzell passes for 102 yards and a touchdown coming on a 65-yard play.

“They are real big up front,” Moses said. “That’s where it all starts. They have a good quarterback who is very athletic. He can run and he can throw. They have two backs who run the ball hard. They have a receiver who just returned from an injury, and he scored two touchdowns in their last game. They are balanced and have a real good offense.

“Defensively, they are fast. They’re big up front and like to send their linebackers. They send them from the inside and from the outside. They like to play with their defensive alignments. We’re going to have to locate their linebackers first. They also have some good athletes in the secondary.”

Looking back at the St. Mary’s win, Daley said he thought his Crusaders played well on both sides of the ball after they adjusted to their speed.

“Tackling remains a concern for us,” he said. “It’s something we stress each week, and we’re striving to get better at it. It’s an area of focus, and we’re working to improve.”

The contest with Edison represents Central’s final home game of the season. The Crusaders will visit currently unbeaten Madonna next Thursday before closing with a long road trip to Fort Frye, which currently ranks sixth in Region 23.

As he prepares his squad for Saturday, Moses said the key will be better play up front.

“We have to come off of the line,” he said. “We have to start there. We need to work on that in practice because we have to be able to give our backs an opportunity.”

Football Xtra writer Aaron Petchal contributed to this story.