For a team that hadn't been to the state playoffs since 1987 and had never won a playoff game, Central Catholic looked as if the second season was made for the Fighting Irish in a 21-10 victory over sixth-ranked Amherst Steele last night at Start.
The Irish did all the things a team needs to do to advance - to a matchup next Friday against St. Francis de Sales - such as having players step up and not making big mistakes.
No player stepped up bigger than the Irish workhorse in the backfield Derek Barksdale. The 5-9, 170-pound Barksdale did his best imitation of a pinball, breaking and bouncing off Amherst tacklers for 182 yards on 37 carries and a touchdown.
The defense also scooped up four Comet fumbles, three in the first half as Central Catholic hung on to a 7-3 edge.
“We're going to enjoy it tonight, but we're not satisfied,” said Central Catholic second-year coach Greg Dempsey. “We've been telling the kids, `Why not us?' We played a very good football team tonight and we played well.”
The first Irish drive seemed to set the tone for the game. Central marched 71 yards on 16 plays, with Barksdale gaining 55 of those yards on 11 carries. When Amherst crowded the line on the third-and-goal, quarterback Ben Harman dumped a one-yard pass to Luke Gardner for a TD and a 7-0 lead.
“The first drive did a lot for us,” Dempsey said. “We've never been to the playoffs and we're playing the No. 6 team in the state, so there still might have been a little doubt in the players' minds. When we scored, I think it showed them that we belonged here and we loosened up.”
Amherst slowed Barksdale in the second quarter before he gained 100 yards in the second half to finish his big night.
Barksdale gave the Irish breathing room with 1:16 left in the third quarter when he capped a nine-play, 66-yard drive with a 28-yard run where he outran the Amherst defensive secondary to the end zone's left-corner flag to make the score 14-3.
Moments after one of the biggest football wins in school history, and his game-clinching touchdown, Barksdale already had one eye on next week's game.
“My fullback made a great block and I just followed that and broke a couple of tackles, I think, and bounced outside,” Barksdale said. “I just didn't want to be denied. I'm happy for coach and what we want to do now is look at film, see what went wrong and fix it for the next game.”
Central's defense deserved a curtain call as well. The Irish slowed Amherst's potent running game and gathered three first-half fumbles, two after significant Comets gains.
When Harman was intercepted by Scott Serfozo at the Amherst 44 with 5:58 before halftime, it looked like momentum was shifting to Amherst. But, after the Comets drove to the Central 12, the defense stiffened and forced a 31-yard Jim Cantu field goal.
The defense set up Central's ast score when Deric Ritchey caused a fumble when he sacked quarterback Paul Ramirez and Gardner recovered on the Amherst 10. Three plays later, Harman scored on a one-yard sneak.