Crusaders begin 3-0

COLUMBIANA – After two road games ending in close losses, the Columbiana football team came home to Firestone Park for its week three game against the Steubenville Catholic Central Crusaders.

This was not the home opener the Clippers envisioned.

Steubenville Central showed how dominant it was, outplaying Columbiana in the second half en route to a 35-7 victory on Friday.

Columbiana coach Bob Spaite gave credit to Steubenville Central, knowing the Crusaders were going to be a handful.

“We played hard and battled,” Spaite said. “That’s a very good football team. They put it on some people.”

The Clippers (0-3) applied pressure to the Crusaders early in the game when the Crusaders got closer to the end zone.

On two occasions, both after lengthy drives, the Clippers defense stopped the Crusaders offense, forcing turnovers on fourth down.

“We got good pressure on them,” Spaite said. “We did what we wanted to do. The bottom line, they’re just a little better at pitching and catching than we are at playing secondary. That’s a complement to them.”

Spaite also noted the strength of Steubenville Central’s offense as well as the first quarter work from Columbiana’s defense.

“They have a nice core of receivers,” Spaite said. “If the quarterback didn’t get rid of the ball, he was on the ground.

“We were hitting him. We were doing everything we wanted to do defensively, except that we just didn’t match up well with their receivers.”

It would not be until late in the second quarter, however, when Central (3-0) senior quarterback Brenton Collabella connected with senior Aleks Porreca for a 19-yard pass, giving the Crusaders a 7-0 lead. Another Collabella pass, to senior running back Ryan Fletcher for 27 yards, gave the Crusaders a 14-0 halftime lead.

Steubenville Central coach Steve Daley attributed the first half slump to missed plays.

“We tried to attack certain things, and we just couldn’t,” Daley said. “We just barely got off on making the connections.”

Daley also noted the readiness of Columbiana’s defense, which held Steubenville Central to just 14 points in the first half, as opposed to 42 or more points that the Crusaders put up in the past two games.

“Give Columbiana credit, they pressured us, and that kind of hurried us a little bit,” Daley said. “We’re not accustomed to that. First two games out, we score 42 points in the first quarter, so not getting any points there, it makes us a little nervous.”

The Clippers made an early attempt to close in during the second half as freshman quarterback Mitch Davidson threw a 37-yard pass to junior wide receiver Eamon Eavers to give them their only score of the game.

Shortly after, though, it was all Steubenville Central, and senior running back Khalil Jones would get the game’s only rushing touchdown for nine yards, followed by two passes from Collabella to senior Johnny DiCarlantonio for touchdowns, cementing the Crusaders’ victory.

When it seemed that Columbiana had the edge, it would lose focus, something Spaite looks to correct.

“You get back in there, and then you have to tackle in space,” Spaite said. “We didn’t miss as many tackles as we did last week. We showed signs of being a good team, but we’re just not consistent.”

Eavers had four carries for 62 yards.

Davidson had 12 completions on 25 attempts and passed for 116 yards, but he was bested by Collabella who went 17-for-33, passing for 394 yards.

Daley gave words of support for the young Columbiana team, seeing improvement.

“They’re a young team,” Daley said. “From what we saw on film, they’re improving. The first two games were close losses, this one not so much. You can definitely see an improvement from week-to-week, and they’ll be a good team down the road.”

Davidson had some small rushes, but would run for 26 yards in 11 carries. Senior fullback John Cramer ran for 73 yards in 15 carries.

The receiving, however, was Central’s strongsuit, as Ryan Fletcher, responsible for one touchdown, finished with 120 yards on five catches.

Daley looks to improve on the pass protection for their next game against Toronto.

“We need to better our pass protection,” Daley said. “We need to protect on the inside better. If we can do that, and give our quarterback some more time, we’ll be in good shape.”

Coach Spaite still showed pride in his team and, contrary to their appearance, was very happy to see an improvement in their discipline.

“I didn’t see a swing and a miss like I did last week,” Spaite said. “I thought we lacked a little discipline last week. We have improved each week. We really have.

“We have a great group of seniors, we have a great team, and we’re just young and inexperienced. We’ll get better each week.”

The Clippers travel to Springfield next Friday, while Central hosts Toronto.