MASSILLON, Ohio — This is no running joke.
Central Catholic could. Trotwood-Madison could not. Run, that is. As a result, the Fighting Irish are the Division II state football champions.
They beat Madison, 16-12, in a rather dominating performance Friday night at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
The team from outside Dayton won this game a year ago when running back Israel Green, then a junior, carried 35 times for 327 yards and six touchdowns. This time, he had 56 yards.
Meanwhile, Amir Edwards of Central carried 38 times for 185 yards and both offensive scores for the Irish.
That Edwards had that kind of night is no big surprise.
The Irish have been saddling him up all season and he’s pretty much always been a thoroughbred.
This time, he was the Man O’ War. No big shocker.
But Central’s defensive effort was astoundingly good considering the opponent’s feature back ran for 1,732 yards this season, even more than Edwards’ total.
“It was as impressive a defensive performance as I’ve seen in a long time,” said Irish coach Greg Dempsey, whose team won a state title for the second time.
“The team that can establish a running game early is the team in control.”
That was Central.
Even when it got a little hairy later after a couple big passing plays by the Rams, the Irish could turn to Edwards for a big gain here, a first down there, the clock grinding down and tightening the vise on Madison.
With big Jon Perrin — and by big we mean 6-foot-1, 305 pounds — dominating the middle of the defensive line and closing gaps despite often facing two and sometimes three blockers, the Irish could gimmick up their defense from all angles to stymie Madison’s Green.
“Man, we’ve got tough kids,” said Central defensive coordinator Nick Toth.
“That’s the first thing. We schemed their running back, obviously. And we could do all kinds of stuff because Jon took away the middle. We came at [Green] a lot of different ways and took the run away and made their quarterback try to beat us.”
Tough kids? Perrin’s left eye was swollen shut by the time it was over.
“Got gouged, I think,” he said, smiling. “But I’ll take it. What a great game. A state championship, man. How good is that?
“The coaches drilled us to tackle. We just couldn’t let that guy break away. We all ran to the ball, we all tackled. We hustled, and we tackled. And then we tackled some more.”
For three quarters, Madison never snapped the ball in Central Catholic territory. The Irish stacked the box with defenders on early downs and blitzed on passing downs — linebacker Chris Green came up really big — and the Rams were almost always bottled up. With three big quarterback sacks factored into the yardage, Madison had but 44 net yards on 38 plays entering the fourth quarter.
“We wanted to make sure Green had to cut before he got to the hole,” said Central free safety Mitch Cochell, who helped stuff the run and also made a highlight-reel pass deflection on a deep route. “We did a great job disrupting their backfield.”
Meanwhile, Edwards did a great job disrupting Madison’s defense, whether he was blasting up the middle, cutting back, or streaking to the edge and turning up-field.
Quarterback DeShone Kizer admitted, “Our passing game wasn’t the prettiest,” so it was up to Edwards to win the beauty contest.
“I knew I had to punch out some yards,” Edwards said. “Our line was great; we fought together tonight. All night [the Rams] couldn’t get a running game going, but we did. I think it was the difference. It was a matter of who was going to fight harder and be more physical.”
Kizer called Edwards, “maybe the toughest guy I know. You can twist his ankles at the bottom of the pile, you can gouge his eyes, nothing will stop him. Having him next to me in the backfield was a privilege.”
They were together for the last time. Kizer is a junior; Edwards is a senior. They ended it the only way the Irish ever dreamed it, swaying side by side on the storied field as the big Central crowd and the school’s band joined up for the alma mater, Edwards’ hand one of those holding that gleaming trophy high.
Irish eyes were smiling.
They ran Trotwood-Madison off the field. And they stopped the run. And they are the champions.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.