CLYDE -- The Central Catholic football juggernaut kept right on rolling Friday night, using three touchdowns in the final 3:33 of the first half to break things open and pave the way to a 42-14 victory over Avon in the Region 6 championship game at Clyde’s Robert Bishop Stadium.
“I’ve had the pleasure of doing this before [during 2005 D-II championship run], so to see these kids do it is just phenomenal,” Irish coach Greg Dempsey said of Central’s first advancement to a state semifinal in seven years. “They’re playing great. Monday through Thursday, this is how they practice, and they’re really locked in. It shows up on Friday night. They’re just a great group of kids.”
The Irish will face fifth-ranked Aurora (12-1) in a D-II semifinal Friday at 7:30 p.m. at a site to be determined.
Central senior running back Amir Edwards rushed 19 times in the game for 134 yards and three touchdowns, junior quarterback DeShone Kizer ran for 77 yards and was 9-of-16 passing for 108 yards and a score, and the Fighting Irish defense added two 24-yard interception returns for TDs in the third quarter to close the door on last year’s playoff nemesis.
It was Avon which used five second-half TD passes last year to oust Central 49-28 in a regional semifinal en route to its state runner-up finish.
There would be no such onslaught this time for the eighth-ranked Eagles, who were handicapped in this rematch when starting quarterback David Zeh was forced out of the game by an apparent head injury after being sacked by Irish senior linebacker Ian Butler a minute into the second quarter.
Zeh had completed six of his eight passes for 92 yards and scored Avon’s first TD on a 15-yard run to tie the game 7-7 with 3:26 left in the first quarter.
The fourth-ranked Fighting Irish (12-1) grabbed the game’s momentum with a 10-play, 94-yard drive, which was keyed by junior quarterback DeShone Kizer’s 48-yard run and his 21-yard completion to senior tight end Keith Trowbridge.
Edwards, who had also scored Central’s first TD on an 11-yard run midway in the first quarter, covered the final three yards as the Irish took the lead for good at 14-7 with 3:33 remaining in the half.
“Everybody was prepared,” Edwards said. “The O-line did their job, Kizer was driving the ball and being a team leader, and the defense was great. We did a good job all around.
“We’ve just bonded like brothers late in the season, and everything’s clicking. We’ve just got to keep it going.”
Avon went three-and-out on its next possession, and after junior Derich Weiland’s reverse-of-field, 20-yard punt return, Edwards went 39 yards on the next play for a score and Central was up 21-7 with 2:16 left before halftime.
Eagles coach Mike Elder’s gamble led to Central’s next score.
The Eagles ran a fake punt and failed to get a first, turning the ball over at their 38 and, three plays later, Kizer hit Towbridge on a 20-yard TD pass with just one second left in the half.
“We’re hitting on all cylinders, and our defense put up 14 points,” Kizer said. “You can’t ask for anything better than that.
“Last year we didn’t play a complete game against them and they kind if stepped on us in the second half. We knew we were going to have to play a complete game this time.
“We set a goal at the beginning of the year to get a state championship, and this is just another step to get there.”
In its three playoff wins thus far, Central has outscored Grafton Midview, Mansfield Madison and Avon by a combined 99-14 in the first halves of those games, and 137-28 overall.
With Zeh out, Eagles backup Tommy Glenn struggled to a 4-of-16 passing effort for 37 yards and three interceptions. The first two of those came in the third quarter.
Ohio State-bound Irish defensive back Jayme Thompson picked off a pass that was deflected, then tightroped the right sideline on the way to the first 24-yard interception return TD for Central with 3:32 left in the third quarter.
“The offense gave us the lead and we just wanted to hold it,” Thompson said. “The defense just followed the game plan and we did what we had to do to win.
“This is extremely exciting. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Just 46 seconds later, Butler snared a Glenn pass, and also returned the pickoff 24 yards for a score.
Central outgained the Eagles 387-198 in total offense, with the Irish defense holding Avon’s Michigan-bound senior running back Ross Douglas to 69 yards on 14 rushes. For Douglas, 53 of those yards came on five fourth-quarter carries with Central first-team defense on the sideline.
Douglas scored the game’s final TD on a 20-yard run with 3:49 remaining.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.