TIFFIN - Throughout the 2005 season, Central Catholic junior Dane Sanzenbacher has been a pretty good football player on both sides of the ball for the Fighting Irish.
Through two Division II playoff games the last two weeks, he has become "Great Dane."
Sanzenbacher scored on two passes from quarterback Kevin Jansen to ignite the Irish in the third quarter, contributed a big 77-yard reception to set up another score, and mixed in an interception, all in the second half.
These plays helped propel Central (11-1) to a 42-14 romp over Mansfield Madison last night at Frost-Kalnow Stadium.
"We came out a little flat in the first half and I was just trying to give my team a spark," said Sanzenbacher, who also starred in last week's playoff win over Tiffin Columbian. "That was a huge win for us. Our school has never won 11 games before."
The 10th-ranked Irish will next face topped-ranked Avon Lake (12-0) in a D-II regional final Friday at 7:30 at a site to be determined.
The 28-point final margin was far from anyone's thoughts at halftime, when the Irish were locked in a 7-7 stalemate with the Rams, who kept Central's defense off balance with their option attack.
Thanks to Sanzenbacher's second-half heroics, that would matter little at game's end.
"The key is, everybody knows he's the go-to guy and he still does it," Irish coach Greg Dempsey said. "Dane steps up all the time.
"He's not one of those guys who just plays a star role on Fridays. He works hard all week."
Irish tailback Chris Willis (12 carries, 48 yards), who did not play after a late first-half injury, got Central on the board with 4:13 left in the first quarter. He capped a 55-yard drive with a three-yard TD run.
But Madison (8-4) responded with a 74-yard march, scoring on fourth-and-four on a 24-yard halfback pass from Devin Ohl to Mitchell Owens, who outjumped Neil Mitchell for the ball in the end zone 1:29 into the second quarter.
Central, which topped the Rams 370-177 in total offense, opened the second half by driving 75 yards on 12 plays. Sanzenbacher (six catches, 167 yards) beat the Ram secondary for an 11-yard TD catch midway in the third quarter.
The Irish recovered an onside kick, then gave the ball right back when Sanzenbacher's halfback pass was picked off on the next play.
The Rams tied the game seven plays later when QB Cory Rupert found Ohl down the right sideline for a 56-yard TD with 2:06 left in the third.
That's when Great Dane made his next great play. One snap later, he caught a Jansen pass over his shoulder along the left sideline, kept his balance when it appeared he was going down, then sprinted upfield.
He deked a Ram DB 15 yards from the end zone, then streaked in to complete the dazzling 59-yard TD play with 1:08 left in the third.
"I was just fighting to get around the corner and then it was off to the races," Sanzenbacher said.
After the Rams gambled and lost on a fake punt play from their 31, Central capitalized on a nine-yard TD pass from Jansen to Mitchell 2:51 into the fourth quarter.
Following a Madison punt, Sanzenbacher broke things open on a third-and-14 play from the Irish 20. Jansen
(8-of-12, 196 yards) went deep to Sanzenbacher, who caught the ball in stride over the middle at his 45 and motored another 52 yards to the 3.
Jansen's subsequent TD run was called back for holding, but Mitchell (24 carries, 93 yards), who was an able replacement for Willis, would score on a nine-yard run with 3:09 remaining.
"In the first half we came out here and really weren't focused, and we didn't play to our potential," Mitchell said. "In the second, we did what we could do. We just wanted to make it to the next round."
Highlighting Central's strong second-half defensive effort, Sanzenbacher added his interception and, later, Irish safety Kevin Boyle added the final score by returning a Ram fumble 44 yards for a TD with 1:40 to go.
"That kid's pretty special, and the more risks that we had to take, the more he stepped up," Rams coach Matt Godsil said of Sanzenbacher.
Contact Steve Junga at: