No. 4 Irish square off with No. 5 Aurora: Central expects tough challenge in state semi


The last time Cen­tral Cath­o­lic reached a Divi­sion II state foot­ball semi­fi­nal, a 2005 Fight­ing Ir­ish team ar­rived there as a some­thing of a long­shot.

Even­tual Ohio State and Chi­cago Bears re­ceiver Dane San­zen­bacher was then an emerg­ing ju­nior star re­ceiver/de­fen­sive back for Cen­tral, in the midst of a su­perb five-game post­sea­son per­for­mance (nine touch­downs, six in­ter­cep­tions) that would help the 10th-ranked Ir­ish (14-1) win a state cham­pi­on­ship.

As fourth-ranked Cen­tral (12-1) faces fifth-ranked Aurora (12-1) at 7:30 p.m. to­day at Huron, there is no fly­ing un­der the ra­dar for the Ir­ish, nor has there been since the play­offs be­gan.

“In 2005, we were kind of a Cin­dere­lla team,” 13th-year Cen­tral head coach Greg Demp­sey said. “This year peo­ple have been talk­ing about us get­ting to this point since the pre­sea­son. I think these kids have han­dled that pres­sure and those ex­pec­ta­tions re­ally well.”

Cen­tral was ranked No. 1 in Divi­sion II for the first seven weeks of the As­so­ci­ated Press poll be­fore be­ing bumped down by 42-0 loss to vis­it­ing Whit­mer in a game that de­cided the Three Rivers Ath­letic Con­fer­ence cham­pi­on­ship on Oct. 26.

Most of the sea­son the Ir­ish have been viewed across Ohio as a solid state-ti­tle con­tender and, since the hum­bling Whit­mer de­feat, they have done lit­tle to change those opin­ions. They are the high­est ranked team still alive in the D-II play­offs.

Cen­tral has jumped out to big half­time leads in each of its first three play­off games, and drill­ing Graf­ton Mid­view (50-7), Mans­field Madi­son (45-7), and 2011 state run­ner-up Avon (42-14). In the first halves of those games, the Ir­ish out­scored the three foes 99-14.

“You’re al­ways fear­ful of any­thing dis­rupt­ing a rhythm when you’ve got things roll­ing,” Demp­sey said. “But I think the kids have been re­ally good this week. The look in their eyes says they re­ally want to get to the state cham­pi­on­ship game very badly, as I know Aurora does.

“It’s been a good in­tense week, and I’m ex­pect­ing the kids to come out with the same pas­sion and look in their eyes they had the last three weeks.”

In Aurora, the Ir­ish will face a team ca­pa­ble of slow­ing some of the Ir­ish mo­men­tum with a proven ball-con­trol of­fense keyed by an ef­fec­tive rush­ing at­tack.

“They’re a very good foot­ball team with some good run­ning backs and a very good quar­ter­back,” Demp­sey said of Aurora. “Their skill guys are good-sized kids. One back [Zach Quinn] is 6-4, 210 pounds, and their quar­ter­back is 6-2, 190, and he’s a phys­i­cal run­ner.

“They’re very pa­tient and good at what they do. They’re go­ing to pound the ball, play de­fense, and try to win a close game.”

The top rusher for the Green­men, Quinn has car­ried 130 times for 1,022 yards and scored 15 touch­downs. Aurora quar­ter­back George Bol­las is the No. 2 rusher with 124 car­ries for 952 yards and 15 TDs, and has com­pleted 66 of his 116 passes for 1,248 yards and 13 TDs with just three in­ter­cep­tions.

A third back, Jake McVay has rushed 91 times for 785 yards and scored 12 TDs, and the top re­ceiver for the Green­men is 6-3, 175-pound Jake Czer­win­ski (24 catches, 381 yards, 3 TDs).

“They can con­sume large chunks of time and keep your of­fense off the field,” Demp­sey said. “They can con­trol the tempo of a game.”

On de­fense, Aurora is led in tack­les by 6-3, 215-pound Alex Smierciak (114), fol­lowed by Nate Sotka (99), Quinn (82), and Brett Rodgers (81).

Smierciak also has five in­ter­cep­tions, and has caught 12 passes for 368 yards and four TDs.

“On de­fense, they may give up some yards, but they don’t give up big plays,” Demp­sey said. “Hope­fully we can hit them with a cou­ple big plays and cause them to get un­com­fort­able on de­fense.”

Aurora, which won a D-II state cham­pi­on­ship in 2008, ad­vanced to this state semi­fi­nal with re­gional wins over New Phil­a­del­phia (35-32), Kent Roosevelt (27-13), and Char­don (34-14).

Through 13 games, Cen­tral and Aurora are al­most mir­ror im­ages statis­ti­cally on of­fense. The Ir­ish av­er­age 280.6 yards rush­ing and 114.3 pass­ing per game, and the Green­men 277.9 on the ground and 115.5 through the air.

Cen­tral is out­scor­ing foes 45.9 to 16.5 per game, Aurora 39.9 to 14.8.

The Ir­ish are trig­gered by 6-4, 205-pound ju­nior quar­ter­back DeShone Kizer, who is 96-of-149 pass­ing for 1,463 yards and 17 TDs with one in­ter­cep­tion. He has rushed 52 times for 408 yards and eight TDs.

The top rusher is se­nior back Amir Edwards, who has car­ried 210 times for 1,501 yards and scored 26 TDs. Juniors Paul Moses (79 rushes, 587 yards, 13 TDs) and Cedric Gray (66 rushes, 384 yards, 5 TDs) add depth to the ground game.

Kizer’s top tar­gets are ju­nior slot back Der­ich Wei­land (32 catches, 476 yards, 9 to­tal TDs) and 6-5, 250-pound tight end Keith Tow­bridge (22 catches, 305 yards, 6 TDs).

Cen­tral’s de­fense is an­chored up front by 6-0, 305-pound tackle Jon Per­rin (51 tack­les, 12 for losses) and Tow­bridge (39 tack­les, 10 TFL) at and end.

Chris Green (77 tack­les) and Ian But­ler (53 tack­les, 11 TFL) high­light the line­back­ing corps, and Ohio State-bound Jayme Thomp­son (44 tack­les, 2 in­ter­cep­tion-re­turn TDs) and Joe Sol­o­mon (29 tack­les, 4 INTs) lead the sec­ond­ary.

“Keys for us will be get­ting them to have some three-and-outs on of­fense, put­ting points on the board early to try to make them play a game they don’t want to play, and win­ning the turn­over bat­tles,” Demp­sey said.

“It’s a big deal for us to try to make them un­com­fort­able, and do things they don’t want to do when they don’t want to do them.

“With a great ball-con­trol team, you have to make them feel like they can’t play their game any­more.”

Con­tact Steve Junga at: sjunga@the­, 419-724-6461 or on Twit­ter@Jun­gaBlade.