MONROE - St. Mary Catholic Central's running game proved nearly unstoppable during the Division 6 regional championship last night at Navarre Field.
Thomas Lieto, Linzie Robinson and Dan Caldwell combined for 437 rushing yards to lead the Falcons to a second straight title with a decisive 46-26 victory over Manchester.
Lieto rushed for 185 yards on 23 carries, including touchdown runs of 9, 1 and 38 yards.
Robinson went for 156 yards on 11 carries, including a 61-yard touchdown scamper.
Caldwell just missed reaching the 100-yard plateau, finishing with 96 yards on six carries, including touchdown runs of 21 and 11 yards.
"Their kids don't stop running and they're tough to bring down," said Manchester coach Wes Gall.
St. Mary (11-1) will play in a state semifinal next Saturday against the winner of today's Constantine-Montague regional final.
The Falcons fell to Constantine-Montague on a last-second touchdown pass in the state semifinal last season.
St. Mary coach Jack Giarmo said whom they meet next week isn't as important as knowing they were able to take care of business against Manchester (10-2).
"I'm proud of my kids," Giarmo said. "We were able to come out with the win. We did some good things and we have some things to work on.
"The good thing about tonight, I though we were always in control of the game."
The Falcons, who recorded 23 first downs against Manchester, had the contest practically wrapped up by halftime.
They owned a 24-6 lead at the half after putting together scoring drives on three of their first six possessions during which quarterback Josh Bicy attempted only one pass.
Caldwell, who normally spends most of his time on defense, put the Falcons in front when he scored the first of his two first-half touchdowns in the opening quarter. Lieto scored the first of his four two-point conversion runs to give St. Mary an 8-0 advantage with 5:36 left in the period.
Manchester quarterback Mike Coltre (11-28-281-1) found Delvin Render for an 18-yard touchdown completion to make it an 8-6 contest - the two-point conversion try failed - with 7:41 left in the second quarter.
However, St. Mary responded by turning its next two possessions into scoring drives.
Caldwell capped a seven-play drive that covered 65 yards by scoring on an 11-yard run to give the Falcons a 16-6 lead with 5:41 left in the half.
It took the Falcons only three plays to go 75 yards for a score on their next possession. Robinson found running room around the right end for a 48-yard gain. Caldwell followed with an 18-yard run before Lieto finished it off with a nine-yard carry into the end zone with 2:41 left in the half.
"It feels really, really good," said Caldwell of his first two touchdown runs of the season. "I've been waiting for that."
Running behind an offensive line that includes Ken Hall, Thomas Marino, Joe Miller, Michael Rapp and Lucas Whitman, the Falcons' ground attack had put them in a good situation at the half.
"Our game plan was to run the football," Lieto said. "It's just great to be able to run behind that offensive line."
The Flying Dutchmen's plan at the outset was to try and use a quicker and smaller defensive line in an attempt to slow down the Falcons. An attempt to go with a bigger defensive line in the second half also was unsuccessful as the Falcons produced three more scores.
"We did everything we could to try and slow them down," Gall said. "We put everything we could at them."
Lieto, who gained more than 1,200 yards during the regular season, scored twice in the second half. Robinson, who also eclipsed 1,000 yards during the regular season, reached the end zone once in the second half.
The Flying Dutchmen produced three touchdowns during the fourth quarter to close the gap a bit.
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