THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo
It seems to be an all-or-none football season for fourth-ranked Central Catholic.
During their first nine regular-season games, no one challenged the Irish (10-1), which owned an average margin of victory of 35 points, and saw no team get closer than 21.
Then came week 10, when the Irish, then ranked No. 1 in the Division II state poll, were brought down to earth in a humbling 42-0 loss at home to Whitmer in a game that decided the Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship.
Central regrouped and bounced back in style with a 50-7 win over visiting Grafton Midview in a first-round playoff contest, which turned out to be no contest after the dominant Irish bolted to a 43-0 halftime lead.
Next up for the Irish is a 7:30 p.m. Friday regional semifinal against Mansfield Madison (10-1) at Sandusky Perkins.
The Central offense hit on all cylinders against Midview, with junior quarterback DeShone Kizer passing for four touchdowns and running for two others, all before the break. For its part, the Irish defense squelched Midview's pass-happy attack, holding Middies QB Cody Callaway to a miserable 8-of-35 passing effort for just 69 yards and a pair of interceptions.
Midview rushed just nine times for seven net yards.
"That was huge for us coming out like that," Dempsey said. "Kizer hit a huge [67-yard] punt, and who'd ever think a punt would cause such a big momentum swing.
"But we pinned them down around their 10, our defense took over, and then our offense got going. It was great for us to build some confidence in every phase of the game."
Which brings Central to its next stark contrast.
The unranked Mansfield Madison shared the Ohio Cardinal Conference title with Mansfield Senior and Millersburg West Holmes (all at 6-1 in OCC).
Madison's Rams are an old-school, three-back, smash-mouth running team, which has generated 90 percent of its yardage on the ground.
"It's such a complete opposite of what we faced last week," said 13th-year Irish coach Greg Dempsey. "That's the probably the toughest thing -- going from facing a spread team that throws it almost every down, to a three-back power offense that's going to run it almost every down.
"We're going to have to be able to switch gears real quick. They also have more of an attacking defense, and we have to be able to adapt to what we're going to see, and be disciplined in how we do it."
Third-year coach Sean Conway's Rams have gained 3,489 rushing yards on 539 carries in 11 games, compared to the clear-the-palette passing of quarterback Alex Smith, who is 30-of-62 passing for 397 yards and three TDs.
At the forefront of this ground-and-pound attack is 5-foot-10, 195-pound senior running back Kale Huss, who has toted the ball 250 times for 1,888 yards and scored 24 TDs.
"They know we're built to run the football, and that's our goal," Conway said. "We're patient with it. We're not going to deviate from our plan. They're built to stop the run, so we're going to have to play our best football.
"We're going to have to force them into making some mistakes. You can't play a team like that straight up, have everybody [on each team] play their best game, and still come out on top. We're going to have to play a physical brand of football, and we're going to have to play ball control."
Complementing Huss, Smith has gained 752 yards on 107 carries, and back Kalvin Gordon has added 320 yards on 69 attempts.
Huss is also the Rams' defensive stalwart, leading the team in tackles with 120 from his safety spot. Linebacker Seth Gowitzka is second in tackles for Madison with 105, and defensive back Dalton Fix has contributed 76 tackles and six interceptions.
On defense, the Rams are yielding 218 yards per game. Madison has outscored its first 11 foes 345-175.
"He's a two-way difference maker," Dempsey said of Huss. "He's just a real good football player. He's definitely tough to deal with. You have to try to contain him."
Central, although more balanced offensively, is also a run-heavy offense.
Senior running back Amir Edwards, who missed most of the past two games after sustaining a head injury midway in the first quarter of the Whitmer game, will return to action Friday.
Edwards has carried 177 times for 1,284 yards and scored 22 TDs. Backs Paul Moses (73 carries, 539 yards, 12 TDs) and Cedric Gray (58 carries, 372 yards, 5 TDs) add depth.
The 6-4, 205-pound Kizer, a top-level college recruit, has completed 82 of his 127 passes for 1,240 yards and 14 TDs with just one interception. He has also rushed 36 times for 276 yards and six TDs.
His top targets are junior receiver Derich Weiland (27 catches, 384 yards, 8 total TDs) and 6-4, 250-pound senior tight end Keith Towbridge (16 catches, 203 yards, 4 TDs). Both Weiland and Towbridge caught two TD passes in last week's win.
The Irish defense has been led up front by linemen Jon Perrin (41 tackles) and Tony Wagner (42 tackles), linebackers Chris Green (63 tackles) and Ian Butler (38 tackles), and in the secondary by Ohio State recruit Jayme Thompson (37 tackles), Mitch Cochell (47 tackles), and Joe Solomon (4 interceptions).
"I'm very concerned," Conway said, "because they're the total package when it comes to having the ability to run, pass, defend, play physical and play finesse.
"They're the total package. Their athletes are beyond skill, and their line is beyond physical. They're very well-coached. They run basic schemes, but they run them so well that it looks like they're doing something different than everybody else is."