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Crusaders hope to improve immediately

LINING UP - The Catholic Central football team welcomes River for the Crusaders' home opener on Saturday. -Joe Catullo

STEUBENVILLE — Catholic Central will look to rebound from an opening week loss when an experienced and talented bunch of River Pilots invade Harding Stadium Saturday.

The opening kick for the seventh all-time meeting between the schools is set for 7 p.m. Central leads the series 6-0.

The Crusaders dropped a 41-7 verdict to Harrison Central in Week 1, while the Pilots were clipped by Bellaire, 28-14. River was plagued by four turnovers in its loss.

“There certainly is work to do every week, but with the young, inexperienced group of players we have and the fact that several key people are out with injuries, there certainly is a sense of urgency to get ready to play River on Saturday,” said second-year Central coach Anthony Agresta. “Harrison Central is a very good football team. Anthony (Hayes) does a great job out there. However, we played about as badly as a football team can play in that game. You’d like to have a do over but, unfortunately, you just don’t get those.

“We’ve lost Jack Rook (a senior) who was going to start for us at tight end and defensive end, so that’s two starters out. We also have lost Ruben Hilson, the transfer from Martins Ferry, who would have started at wide receiver and corner. Then we were grooming Dashon Seditz to help us at linebacker. He has a grade one ACL sprain, so he will be back; he is just not back yet.”

Mike Flannery is in his 18th season as the River grid boss. His 42-man roster, one of the biggest in recent memory at the Hannibal-based school, is stocked with 19 letterwinners.

Sophomore quarterback Brody Lollathin (5-foot-10, 155 pounds) directs the River offense. In the Bellaire game, he threw for 162 yards and a touchdown but also was picked off twice.

Senior Jake Rose (5-11, 165) caught four Lollathin passes for 74 yards, while fellow senior Michael Johnson had two grabs for 73 yards and the score.

Carter Dennis, a 5-10, 195-pound senior, paced River’s rushing attack with 49 yards on 10 trips. He is a two-time first-team All-Ohioan as a linebacker.

The Pilots have plenty of size in the trenches in the likes of Nate Bowers (6-1, 250), Tyson Randall (5-9, 210) and Kobe Zola (5-9, 255). River also boasts an outstanding kicker in junior Zac Hocutt.

“We got a peek of them on film,” Agresta said. “River is not the same type of football team as Harrison Central. They want to be a whole lot more physical with you up front. They want to take advantage of their size and strength. It will be another type of challenge, but it will be a major challenge.

“Our current schedule is not set up as we had originally planned it. It would have been nice to have these two teams (River and Harrison Central) a few weeks down the road when our younger guys have a little more game experience. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it worked out so we have to get ready to play each week.”

Agresta did point out his Crusaders will be working hard in practice this week to improve.

“You know it’s always about basics in football,” he said. “That part of the game is never going to go away. It is always going to be about discipline and fundamentals.

“The disappointing thing is we try to pride ourselves on knowing our responsibilities, know what our jobs are and knowing where to line up. We made way too many mistakes in those areas against Harrison Central. Recognition, alignment and assignment — those are things we want to do real, real well. We want to do them better than the people we are playing against. Again, we did not do that.”

Senior Isaiah Mullins managed to gain 60 yards on 17 carries to lead the Crusaders. He also scored the lone touchdown. Senior quarterback Ryan Gorman completed seven passes for 70 yards. Mullins and senior Vince Carapellotti had two catches each.

“There are always positives whether you win or lose,” Agresta said. “I have been doing this for 30 some years, so I have come to understand that. After you look at the film, you realize things were never as complicated or unexpected as you thought were. Your team never plays as good as it appears it might have played and, believe it not, your team never plays that bad.

“Football games generally come down to 8-12 players or something fundamental. That happened Friday. There were missed tackles, plays that should have gone for negative yardage that ended up being big plays and missed interceptions that again led to big plays. And, you just can’t give up scores on special teams (Harrison Central returned the game’s opening kickoff for a touchdown).”

“Harrison Central was more ready to play than we were. So, we are looking for another opportunity this week to put our best foot forward. I know our guys will continue to work hard and continue to improve.”

Saturday’s game is the first of two consecutive home appearances for Agresta and his Crusaders. They will host Conotton Valley during Week 3. Central then will visit Edison before a home encounter with Madonna. The Crusaders then will visit Toronto before beginning the OHSAA playoffs.

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