Central Catholic took the measure of Tiffin Columbian in just about every aspect of the game last night, and the net result was a 24-10 victory in a first-round Division II playoff game at Waite's Mollenkopf Stadium.
The 10th-ranked Fighting Irish (10-1), who had wrapped up their first City League football crown since 1982 a week earlier against St. John's Jesuit, suffered no emotional letdown.
They grabbed momentum from the outset and never really handed it back to the Northern Ohio League-champion Tornadoes (8-3), who beat Central 24-0 in the first round last year.
Columbian, outgained 284-181 in total offense, was forced to punt four times, had two passes intercepted, and saw two other drives end on downs.
Josh Moore, Columbian's standout wideout/cornerback, had seven catches for 70 yards. But the Tornadoes managed little else offensively.
"Our front seven [on defense] did a great job against their running game," Central coach Greg Dempsey said.
"We played a very physical football game. We were able to set a tone at the beginning and play that way for four quarters, which was huge.
"That put our confidence at a high level."
Central will face Mansfield Madison (8-3) in a regional semifinal Friday night. The Rams advanced by winning at Southview last night.
The Irish victory may have been a costly one, as star senior linebacker Ryan Brown exited with a knee injury just 7:24 into the game.
Except for yielding a 30-yard field goal to Columbian's Josh Smith on the final play of the first half, the Irish dominated the opening 24 minutes.
Central forced a Tornadoes punt on the game's first possession, then drove 59 yards on 11 plays for the first score.
After Chris Willis (22 carries, 70 yards) was dinged up on his fourth carry of the drive, backup tailback Neil Mitchell came on to close the deal, carrying three times for 18 yards.
He dragged two Columbian tacklers the final five yards on a 10-yard touchdown run 7:17 into the game.
Brodie Wagener's 28-yard field goal 1:22 into the second quarter capped Central's third drive.
The fourth, an 81-yard march, ended in a TD. The key play was wideout Dane Sanzenbacher's 49-yard catch-and-run to the Tiffin 12 on a pass from quarterback Kevin Jansen.
Two plays later, Jansen (9-of-16, 102 yards) used a play-action fake, then lobbed a two-yard TD pass to a wide open Kevin Boyle 7:11 before halftime.
Central outgained the Tornadoes 213-77 before the break.
"It was the opposite of last year's game," Columbian coach Steve Gilbert said. "We got the turnover [last year] and we got early momentum and kept them on their heels. They did the same thing to us this year.
"We could not get any offensive momentum, and just couldn't get any rhythm.
"They won at the line of scrimmage. That was the key to the game."
Irish sophomore Greg Hammond, who also turned in a solid performance on defense, fielded a short kickoff to start the second half and returned it to his 46.
Central then used 12 plays and took a 24-3 lead. Sanzenbacher, who also had two interceptions, helped set up the final Irish TD. He caught two nine-yard passes, and had a 22-yard run to the Tornadoes' 4.
"I was just trying to do my part," Sanzenbacher said. "I've got a bunch of great teammates who go out and do it, so I was just trying to hold up my end.
"Defensively, I think it was probably the best and most hard-hitting game we've played. We came out hitting, fired up and ready to go."
On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Willis rammed through a right-side hole cleared by senior guard Mike Starkey and junior tackle John Orta for the touchdown with 5:44 left in the third quarter.
After Sanzenbacher (4 catches, 78 yards; 4 rushes, 38 yards) got his second interception with 7:51 remaining, his fumble on a reverse on the next play six seconds later set up the Tornadoes only TD.
Max Lammlein, who also recovered a Willis fumble in the first half, returned this loose ball 13 yards for a first-and-goal at the Irish 10. Josh Perkins rammed over left guard one yard for the score with 6:18 to play.
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