SANDUSKY — How far can Central Catholic go into the Division II state football playoffs?
If the first two rounds are any indication, the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish might be seeing December’s state championship week.
The Irish (11-1) jumped on Mansfield Madison from the outset Friday night at Fireland Regional Medical Center Stadium, then coasted to a 45-7 victory in a regional semifinal.
After burying Grafton Midview 43-0 in the first half of a 50-7 win a week earlier, Central scored on its first four possessions to take a commanding 28-7 halftime lead on the Rams in this one.
Central’s next playoff test is a regional final Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Avon, which beat the Irish 49-28 in a regional semifinal last year en route to its state runner-up finish. The site is to be determined.
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“We’re just happy to be playing next week, and we know how tough it’s going to be,” Central coach Greg Dempsey said. “Our defense did a great job, and the offense clicked [317 yards]. It was good to be able to mix it up and keep them off-balance.”
Standout 6-4, 205-pound junior quarterback DeShone Kizer was the catalyst again this week, running for Central’s first two scores and passing for the next two. He finished 5-for-6 passing for 115 yards, and ran seven times for 35 yards.
In the Midview win last week, Kizer ran for two TDs and passed for four scores before halftime.
“He had it cranked up,” Dempsey said of Kizer. “He’s really playing great. He’s maturing into a complete quarterback, and the game’s really slowing down for him.”
Kizer was bolstered by the return of senior running back Amir Edwards, who had missed the final three quarters of a 42-0 Three Rivers Athletic Conference loss to Whitmer two weeks ago, plus last week’s playoff opener, because of a concussion.
Edwards carried 14 times for 83 yards and a TD.
Just as important in this win was the play of the Irish defense, which shut down Madison’s usually productive 317-yards-per-game rushing attack.
The Rams rushed 40 times for 120 yards, with 46 of those yards coming in the fourth quarter after the game was long decided. Madison was 0-for-3 passing.
After the Central defense forced a Rams punt, Kizer marched the Irish 61 yards on nine plays, closing the drive on a one-yard sneak over left guard with 4:46 left in the first quarter.
Madison went three-and-out and the Irish went right back to work, this time moving 52 yards on six plays, with Kizer going five yards around right end for the TD on the final play of the first quarter.
“We knew they were going to try to slow it down on us, and as an offense we needed to try to get points up fast,” Kizer said. “As long as we kept that high-powered offense up we knew we’d be fine.
“We had a little bit of everything. The pass game opened up early and we beat them deep a few times. That opened up the run game. When you can pass six times and score, or run four times and score, there’s not a lot of teams that can stop that.”
The Rams would have the ball for just 10 seconds before Central was at it again.
Madison’s standout running back Kale Huss, was hit for a loss and fumbled, and Irish defensive back Jayme Thompson recovered at the Rams’ 23. Huss, who came into the game with 1,888 rushing yards in 11 games, was held to 76 on 20 attempts.
On the next play, Kizer threw to the back right side of the end zone, where 6-5 Irish tight end Keith Towbridge outleaped Madison defensive backs Eric Brown and Dalton Fix to make the TD grab 17 seconds into the second quarter.
“That’s a dream play for me being 6-5,” Towbridge said. “I was light on my feet and timed it just right. We’re clicking right now and there is nothing that’s going to break us apart.”
The Rams used some trickery to extend their next drive, with Fix, in punt formation, faking the kick and running 10 yards for a first down at the Irish 37.
Six plays and two Central penalties later, Huss rammed in from five yards out and Madison was back within 21-7 with 4:49 left in the half.
But Central was not to be denied, scoring on its fourth straight possession of the half. This time Kizer hit slot back Derich Weiland on a 47-yard TD pass 3:11 before halftime, and Central led 28-7.
The Irish added TDs in the third quarter on runs of 12 yards by Edwards and five by Paul Moses, and Jake Suder capped the scoring with a 23-yard field goal.
“They’re a great football program with unreal talent, and their coaching staff does everything right and puts them in great spots to be successful,” Rams coach Sean Conway said of Central. “They are as advertised, and I think a contender to win a state championship.”
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.