In perhaps the biggest high school football game between two City League schools in 39 years, the crowd at Waite's Mollenkopf lived up to pregame expectations but the contest on the field never materialized as anticipated.
With an estimated 7,500 looking on, ninth-ranked CL-champion St. Francis de Sales (10-1) rode the legs of senior tailback Rodney Gamby, plus another sterling effort by its defense, to a 31-0 victory over league runner-up Central Catholic (9-3) in a Division II regional playoff semifinal.
In 1962, Central defeated fellow CL and state-ranked power DeVilbiss en route to a state championship, which then was determined by the Associated Press poll, 10 years before Ohio adopted a playoff format.
St. Francis - the first Toledo team to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs since current coach Dick Cromwell led the Knights to the Division I state championship in 1984 - faces top-ranked Avon Lake Friday night for the Region 6 title and a state-semifinal berth. Avon Lake edged Defiance 17-14 last night.
Cromwell turns 54 today, but he got an early birthday gift from Gamby, who missed part of the school day yesterday with flu symptoms.
Gamby broke his school's single-season rushing record on his second carry of the night. A five-yarder put him four past the 1,613 yards B.J. Gall gained in 11 games last season. By first quarter's end, he had a modest 14 yards on four attempts.
That was just the start of his impressive 23-carry, 221-yard effort that closed with an 11-yard run to a first down on the final play of the third quarter.
In between, Gamby scored from 69 yards out on the second play of the second quarter, set up David Kramp's 23-yard field goal 5:02 before halftime with four runs totaling 22 yards, opened the second half with an 85-yard kickoff return TD, and added a six-yard TD run with 3:20 left in the third quarter to make it 24-0.
“We pounded the ball all night long and the offensive line did it once again,” Gamby said. “I can't say enough about them. They've played great ball all year long.”
How did he manage his illness so well?
“It was just the adrenaline and the emotion of the game,” Gamby said. “We had a great crowd and the atmosphere of the game just took over, I suppose. It was pretty rough in the first half, but then when we came out for the second half and I broke that kickoff return, and I felt like a million bucks.”
David Schrader added a 30-yard TD run with 10:29 remaining.
“It was a tough first half and we got a couple points on the board, and then that second-half kickoff maybe kind of got to them,” Cromwell said. “Then we wore them down. We're playing well right now.”
Before Gamby's 69-yard TD, Central was even in the battle. The Irish moved 47 yards to a fourth-and-4 at the Knight 35 before linebacker Adam Links stopped Central back Derek Barksdale (23 carries, 101 yards) a yard short on the first play of the second quarter.
On the next play Gamby scored the only points St. Francis needed. Its defense clamped down on Central completely in the second half (two net yards) after yielding 141 yards before halftime.
“We did some very good things in the first half,” Central coach Greg Dempsey said. “But then, exactly what we said we had to look out for happened. We turned the ball over, and gave up the big touchdown run.
“It was kind of like the last time we played (16-8 Knight win two weeks ago). We moved the ball effectively in the first half and just weren't able to convert it into points. That (kickoff return TD) was the straw that broke the camel's back.”
The Knights picked off three Ben Harman passes, one each by safety Joel Malhoit and line- backers Links and John Lonchyna.
“We didn't expect a shutout, but our defense was so pumped up for this game,” Lonchyna said. “We weren't overconfident, we just knew what we had to do. We really wanted to play them again, and we tried to make a statement.”