Crusaders visit Blue Devils

CELEBRATION — Steubenville Catholic Central’s Levi Thompson (15) celebrates a touchdown with quarterback Justin Hartzell (4) against Oak Glen on Saturday. (Photo by Joe Catullo)

BERLIN CENTER — Catholic Central begins a tough three-game stretch Friday with a trip up north to face a “complete football team.”

Western Reserve, which handed the Crusaders a 20-0 defeat in 2016, stands at 1-1 after suffering a 34-0 Week 2 loss to always tough South Range. Steve Daley’s Crusaders are 2-0 after surprising Wheeling Central on the road before rolling by Oak Glen.

The second all-time meeting between the schools will start at 7 p.m.

“They are a complete football team; I can tell you that much,” Daley said. “Offensively, the running backs have nice size and they run hard. The offensive line is big and gets off the ball well.

“When they want to throw, the quarterback is very capable. He has a nice arm. Plus, he is throwing to two receivers who are both 6-5. Their slot is quick and hard to deal with in space. Their offense presents you with a lot of problems.”

Western Reserve won its final six games last year but fell just short of qualifying for the OHSAA playoffs for just the second time in the past decade. After dominating the Inter Tri-County League, the Blue Devils entered the Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference this season. The school has a little more than 100 boys enrolled in grades 9-12 with 61 of them out for football.

Andy Hake’s club opened the season with a 34-3 victory over Columbiana.

Jack Cappabianca, who currently is slated to attend Ohio State next season as a preferred walk-on at linebacker, is Western Reserve’s primary running threat. The senior stands 6-2 and weighs 221 pounds. He is joined in the backfield by junior Adam Gartrell (6-2, 185).

Leading the offensive line is senior tackle Ryan Musch (6-3, 207) and junior guard Brycen Jackson (5-10, 230).

Dominic Velasquez (6-3, 175) directs the Western Reserve attack. His primary targets are senior split end Kade Hilles (6-5, 170) and junior tight end Caleb Quinn (6-5, 194). Senior Ryan Demsky (5-10, 140) is the dangerous player in the slot.

In the loss to South Range, Western Reserve turned the ball over five times and was limited to 58 yards on the ground.

“They got beat by a very good football team,” Daley said. “That’s something we are preaching to our kids. South Range is very good. People in this area should know that since they played Indian Creek last year.

“We can’t go by that score. We can only go by what we see on film. Most of their team is back from last year. I think they only lost two guys, so our guys know what they are up against Friday.”

Stalled drives and turnovers wreaked havoc on Central in last year’s game with the Blue Devils. The Crusaders were victimized by two fumbles along with an interception at the Western Reserve goal line. In addition, Central couldn’t capitalize on a drive that started at the Blue Devil 8.

“We were in the red zone three times and didn’t come away with any points,” Daley said. “You can attribute that to a lot of different things. I think we are a better team in Week 3 this year than we were in Week 3 last year.”

After a shaky start, Central reeled off 28 unanswered second half points to earn the convincing victory over Oak Glen.

The Crusaders finished with 563 yards of offense (316 on the ground and 247 through the air). Junior quarterback Justin Hartzell completed 14-of-21 passing attempts for four touchdowns. Craig Smith ran for 135 and three scores, while Levi Thompson has 102 yards of offense, catching two scoring tosses and running for a touchdown. Anthony Fallon had 45 yards rushing and 92 receiving yards. He also delivered a pick six from his defensive back position.

“We were a little flat in the beginning,” Daley said. “We preached all week that we couldn’t come out that way, but again you are dealing with kids. You can tell them all you want, but it comes down to what happens once you get there. We weren’t real happy with what we had when we got there Saturday, but to their credit, we got things rolling.”

Through two games, Central’s offense is averaging 471 yards and 49 points per game. Hartzell has 191 yards on the ground and Smith 188. Fallon has six catches and Thompson three.

Daley noted this week he and his staff have been preaching “how important this game is to the rest of our season.”

“It’s not the end all of course,” he said. “But it would be really nice go up there, play the way we are capable of playing and hopefully get one.”