Crusaders fine-tuning before long road trip

ROAD WARRIORS — Steubenville Catholic Central’s Craig Smith rushes against Madonna on Oct. 19. (Photo by Michael D. McElwain)

ROAD WARRIORS — Steubenville Catholic Central’s Craig Smith rushes against Madonna on Oct. 19. (Photo by Michael D. McElwain)

CHILLICOTHE — Steubenville Catholic Central hit a bump in the road last week in its regular season finale at Fort Frye.

Head coach Steve Daley is hoping his Crusaders have a little smoother ride when they head to Chillicothe Southeastern Friday for the Division VI, Region 23 quarterfinals.

“We’re going to get back on track, and we’ll be just fine,” Daley said. “We have a good football team and our kids are looking forward to playing against Southeastern.”

The 7-3 Crusaders are making their first playoff appearance since 2013. They finished seventh in the region. Southeastern, a first-time playoff participant, is 10-0 and earned the second seed. Friday’s kick is set for 7:30 p.m.

Friday’s winner will go against the survivor of the third- (Dawson-Bryant) and sixth-seed (Shenandoah) match. No. 1 Nelsonville-York will entertain eighth-seeded Shadyside, and fifth-seeded Galion Northmor visits No. 4 Fort Frye.

The SE Panthers whipped Westfall 48-12 in Week 10 to record their first ever unbeaten season and claim their third ever Scioto Valley Conference championship. In achieving regular season perfection, Southeastern beat two teams with winning records (Zane Trace and Unioto). Overall, their opponents went 41-59.

“They are 10-0 and have a good football team,” Daley said. “They do some things offensively that are different from what we have seen this year. They run really tight splits with their line and use a double wing that is based on misdirection. Their backs like to get behind the offensive line, which gets off the ball really well. They definitely can give you problems defensively.”

Sophomore quarterback Lane Ruby (5-7, 160 pounds) directs the SE offense, which averages 38 points per game. Seniors Carson Stauffer (5-11, 195) and Dakota Houser (5-11, 155) are the primary running threats from their wingback positions. Junior Dakota Downing (5-8, 165) starts at fullback.

SE uses a double tight end formation with junior John Winfield (6-2, 205) and senior Trey Brown (6-1, 170) manning the spots. There is plenty of size along the Panther offensive front with the likes of juniors Isaiah LaFontaine (6-3, 290) and Andrew Moore (6-4, 245). Senior Pratt Higley (6-0, 230) also starts up front.

In the win over Westfall, Stauffer collected 176 rushing yards on 23 carries and scored four times. Houser added 139 on 14 totes, and Ruby carried 12 times for 86 yards.

“Their quarterback is a track guy and so is the tight end Brown. Both of them qualified for the state track meet last year,” Daley said. “Houser is also quick, so they have plenty of speed and some decent size up front.

“The last couple of years they were a passing team but changed to the double wing this season. But they can still spread your defense out and throw the ball. The quarterback is also very good at scrambling when he’s pressured. They can do a lot of different things to hurt you. They certainly wouldn’t be 10-0 if they were not good.”

Despite having some problems in the 49-13 loss to Fort Frye, Central’s offense still finished the regular season with some outstanding numbers. The Crusaders averaged 411 yards per game and 38 points.

“Fort Frye was putting seven guys in the box and going man coverage on the outside with no safety in the middle of the field,” Daley said. “It was just like what we saw against Wheeling Central. The difference was against Wheeling Central, we were able to hit a couple of passes to get them out of that defense. That allowed us to run the ball successfully. That didn’t happen at Fort Frye.

“We had some near misses and some missed connections, so they were able to stay with that defense and continue to take away our running game. They have us playing a little left-handed. It’s easy to criticize and easy to overanalyze things unless you know your kids and your offense. It’s a little different down on the sidelines.

Junior Justin Hartzell finished his second regular season as Central’s quarterback with 1,367 passing yards and 17 touchdowns. He also ran for 747 yards and eight more scores. Hard-running junior Craig Smith posted 1,048 rushing yards and found the end zone 15 times.

Senior Geno DiBiase is Central’s receiving leader with 16 catches for 364 yards. Senior Levi Thompson and junior Anthony Fallon have 12 receptions each.

The Southeastern defense allows 14 points per game, while the Crusaders surrender 24.

From his defensive end position, Thompson has recorded 81 tackles (35 solo) and 23 tackles for a loss. He also has nine sacks. Junior lineman Jacob Stoll had 57 tackles and four sacks, while fellow junior Jordan Maul has 44 stops.

Junior linebacker Matt Bell has been in on 86 tackles for the Crusaders (34 solo), while Dom Argentine, also a junior linebacker, has 68 tackles. Senior defensive back Amin Butler had 41 tackles.

Reaching the playoffs, Daley said, definitely was a goal for his 2017 Crusaders.

“They wanted to have another winning season, and they wanted to be playing in Week 11,” he said. “We knew coming in we had to get some wins early, and we were able to do that. That carried into the second half when we played pretty well.

“We played with 25 guys the last few weeks, and we played some games earlier with 21 or 22 guys. To be able to accomplish what we have is pretty unique. It says a lot of about the caliber of kids we have. Right now, their mentality is they’re not done yet. They want to see how far we can get, and they’re taking things one game at a time.”

Friday’s trip to Southeastern, located in Ross County, is expected to take three hours and 15 minutes. Because of that, Daley said, the Crusaders will be doing a few different things.

“We’ll stop along the way to get a walk through in and have something to eat,” he said. “We’ll get there early enough so we can do some things rather than getting off the bus, getting taped, getting dressed and getting ready to play.”

Notes:

¯ Central is in the playoffs for the 12th time overall. Currently, the Crusaders sport a 12-10 all-time playoff record.

¯ The Crusaders won the Division V title in 1993 thanks to a 17-14 overtime victory over Liberty Center. Central finished that season with a 12-2 record.

¯ In 2005, Central reached the Div. VI title game, bowing to Delphos St. John’s 28-0. Central’s final record that season was 11-4.

¯ The 1993 game, played in Massillon, drew a crowd of 8,663, the eighth largest crowd in the history of Div. V championship contests.

¯ Central is also in the OHSAA record books for the 2005 contest, which had an attendance of 7,317, the seventh largest in Div. VI history.

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