FREMONT — Central Catholic got a strong challenge from Tiffin Columbian for almost three full quarters Friday night.
But the second-ranked Fighting Irish used some big plays to turn a tight battle into a 42-13 romp over the final 13 minutes in a Division III football regional semifinal at Don Paul Stadium.
“We needed to be punched in the mouth a little bit,” Central Catholic coach Greg Dempsey said. “Our games the last month have been a little one-sided. “That’s good, but this is playoff time, and you’re facing great football teams.
“It’s just going to get harder every week. We needed to see what it was like and be able to respond to it.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Central Catholic vs. Tiffin Columbian
Central (12-0) advanced to face Clyde (11-1) in a regional final Friday at 7:30 p.m. at a site to be determined. The Fliers advanced by avenging their only loss of the season, beating Sandusky Perkins 19-6 in another regional semifinal Friday night.
Junior receiver/defensive back Marcus Winters made two of the biggest plays for the Irish, and the other came in between from sophomore running back Tre’Von Wade.
With Columbian trailing just 21-13 late in the third quarter, Tornadoes quarterback Donovan Walker sent a pass toward the right sideline intended for Russ Yeast.
Winters stepped in front for the interception, then raced 50 yards for a touchdown with 38 seconds left in the quarter.
“Marcus did a great job tonight of being a spark,” Dempsey said. “We’ve been a big-play team, and [Columbian] was very disciplined in trying to keep us from making big plays.
“We needed someone to step up, and Marcus was the guy tonight on both sides of the ball.”
Wade (26 carries, 187 yards) then broke a 75-yard TD run just two minutes later to put Central ahead 35-13.
“They’re a big, strong, tough, physical team, and I just pulled through for my team,” Wade said. “The linemen pulled through, and we got the win.
“I felt like I was going to break one eventually, and I had faith in my linemen. We stayed focused the whole game, offensively and defensively.”
Winters added a 15-yard TD catch, leaping high and keeping his feet just inside the back of the end zone with 3 minutes, 36 seconds remaining.
Winters capped his standout two-way performance with his second interception of the half with 2:19 to play.
“I just did what coach told me to do,” Winters said of his pick-six play. “Hold the man in front of me. I just ran, made a juke, and scored.
“Going into halftime we made some adjustments and came out ready to play.”
Central quarterback DeShone Kizer was 10-of-17 passing for 191 yards and two touchdowns, plus ran eight times for 41 yards and a score. He was intercepted twice during the third quarter, deep in Columbian territory.
Added Winters on his TD catch: “[Kizer] said he was throwing the ball away. It didn’t look like it, so I caught it and got my toes in.”
It was the 17th straight win overall for Central, which won the 2012 D-II state championship. The Tornadoes finished the season 10-2.
Columbian, which was outgained 434-254 in total offense, got 137 yards on 34 carries from running back Ryan Lynch. His 48-yard touchdown run got Columbian within 14-13 in the second quarter.
Walker was 6-of-21 passing for 126 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown pass to Josh Flint in the first quarter.
Kizer scored Central’s first touchdown on a four-yard draw, and then hit Jermiah Wade’s four-yard TD gave the Irish a 21-13 edge with 8:45 remaining before halftime.
“We were able to keep the chains moving and keep the ball out of their hands,” Columbian coach Brian Colatruglio said. “Then in the third quarter, we got [two] turnovers. We got the two picks that gave us some momentum. We had three possessions in the third quarter where we could’ve tied the game, and we didn’t finish any of the three.
“That’s the game. We had to get it tied up and then see if maybe they would tighten up a little bit. But once they smell blood, they’re sharks. We may have controlled the game physically, but skill-wise, boy are they talented.”
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6461, or on Twitter@JungaBlade.