Central Catholic was dominant for three quarters of Friday night’s Division II state championship game, then held on for dear life in the final minutes to survive for a 16-12 victory over defending champion Trotwood-Madison at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon.
For the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish (14-1), it is their second D-II state title in seven years, following the 2005 team’s 31-29 title-game win over Canfield.
And, it sets the stage for a possible unprecedented Division I and II sweep by Toledo teams from the Three Rivers Athletic Conference.
Third-ranked Whitmer (14-0) faces Cincinnati Moeller in today’s 7 p.m. D-I final in Canton.
“It feels just as good as it did seven years ago,” 13th-year Irish head coach Greg Dempsey said. “It’s even better seeing these kids going through this for the first time. I’m proud of our team and our staff.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view images
The Irish can give credit for this championship to senior running back Amir Edwards, the offensive line in front of him, and most specifically to a Central defense which was downright oppressive for three quarters.
In last year’s D-II final, Rams running back Israel Green carried 35 times for 327 yards and scored six touchdowns in a 42-28 win over Avon.
On this night, the Irish limited Green to just 56 yards on 14 carries and no TDs, and the Trotwood-Madison offense failed to cross midfield until the final quarter.
“Our defensive coordinator, Nick Toth, had a great gameplan in,” Dempsey said. “He knew what they were going to do, and he had the kids ready to play. The kids stepped up big.
“Even when we stalled on offense in the second half, the defense was there to pick us up enough times.”
For his part, Edwards toted the ball 38 times for 185 yards and both of Central’s touchdowns in the opening half. He closed the season with 269 rushes for 1,777 yards.
“It just feels good to finish with a bang,” Edwards said. “Everybody worked hard through the off-season and throughout the season. We played as a team and we got this win.
“I just had to keep running and hold onto the ball. Sore or not, I just had to keep running.”
The other score for the Irish came with 7:27 left in the third quarter, when Central linebacker Chris Green tackled Rams freshman quarterback Messiah DeWeaver in the end zone for a safety and a 16-0 lead.
That play was set up by junior quarterback/punter DeShone Kizer’s 46-yard punt, which was downed by the combined heads-up work of Reid Whitacre, Cedric Gray and Evan Osborn.
But Trotwood-Madison crossed midfield for the first time on the first play of the fourth quarter, when backup quarterback Austin Howell hit Ryon Lucas on a 45-yard pass to the Central 40.
Prior to that play, the Rams’ first 38 plays netted just 44 yards through three quarters.
DeWeaver returned to hit Lucas on 13-yard TD pass with 9:20 remaining in the game, and the Rams made things really interesting after Howell hit Demarcus Wilson on a 24-yard TD pass with 2:38 to play.
But the Rams’ subsequent onside kick attempt was unsuccessful, and Central was able to take the clock down to 46 seconds on a Kizer punt to the Rams’ 12.
“We head been shutting them down the whole game, so I knew if we just buckled down and stay focused we would be OK,” Irish senior defensive back Jayme Thompson said.
Trotwood-Madison’s rally ended when it came up inches short on a fourth-down play with six seconds left at their 38.
“The offense kept pounding away, and on defense we made some big stops,” said Irish senior defensive back and captain Mitch Cochell. “It’s a testament to the hard work our defense has put in all year, and the focus and determination we have as a defense. They got a couple in at the end, but we did a wonderful job.”
After stalling on its first two possessions of the game, Central reached the end zone on its third.
The Irish traveled 68 yards on 11 plays, all rushing yardage. On the first play of the second quarter, Edwards covered the final three on a toss sweep to the left. Jake Suder’s point-after kick put Central up 7-0.
Trotwood-Madison gambled once too often late in the half, and its second risky decision led to a 14-0 halftime lead for the Irish.
The Rams faced a fourth-down-and-inches from their 18, and running back Israel Green converted that one on an eight-yard pickup.
But, coach Maurice Douglass rolled the dice again on a fourth-and-2 from his 44, and this time the left side of the Central defense stuffed Green for a two-yard loss, and the Irish took over the Rams’ 42 with 1:39 left in the half.
“We should’ve punted,” Douglass said, “and I take responsibility as the head coach. I can man up and do that. Things just didn’t work out in our favor today.”
On the next play, Kizer passed to a wide-open Edwards along the left sideline on a play that went 24 yards.
Facing a third-down-and-4 from the Trotwood 12, Kizer took a sneak to the 8 for a first down, and Edwards swept right and dived to reach the ball across the goal line on the next play, and Central was up 14 with 30 seconds left in the half.
“At the end of the year you ride your horses, and he’s been our guy for two years,” Dempsey said of Edwards. “We were able to score enough points and eat up enough clock.”
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.