STEUBENVILLE - The first seven-plus minutes of Saturday's Toronto-Steubenville Catholic football game belonged to the Red Knights. After that, it was all Crusaders.
Combining its patented quick strike offense with a downright nasty defense, Central rolled to a 42-3 victory on the turf at Harding Stadium.
With the triumph, the Crusaders, who were ranked seventh in the first-ever Ohio Division VII poll, improve to 4-0. The Red Knights fell to 2-2. The game was the 41st between the Jefferson County schools with CCHS holding a 30-10-1 series lead.
Toronto took the opening kickoff and chewed up 7:37 off the first-quarter clock, marching from its own 27 to the Crusaders 2. The Glenn brothers (sophomore quarterback Blaze and senior tailback Chez) collected all the Red Knights yardage via the ground.
Eric Meek's club caught a break when Central penetrated the neutral zone on fourth-and-8 from the CCHS 45. B. Glenn then took the snap from punt formation, tucked the ball away and gained 6 yards, giving Toronto new life.
Chez Glenn then sprinted up the middle for 32 and a first down at the Central 2. That's when the Crusader defense stiffened and the tide started to turn.
On first-and-goal, Chez Glenn was dropped for a 2-yard loss by Jake McCann. McCann delivered again on second, nailing Blaze Glenn for a loss of 2 more. Blaze Glenn's pass on third down fell incomplete. Meek then called on Danny Zdinak to try a field goal and the freshman responded by splitting the uprights from 29 yards out.
"Jake is quick and physical," Central coach Steve Daley said of his senior linebacker. "He played the way we know he is capable of playing. He stepped it up a notch on that first drive, and I'm happy for him in that regard."
Central launched its first possessions from its own 35. The quick-strike Crusaders needed four snaps to take the lead for good.
Hard-running junior fullback Stone Romano covered 36 of the 65 yards when he burst up the middle and sprinted to the Red Knights 25. On second-and-10, senior quarterback Brenton Colabella rolled to his right, avoided the Toronto pass rush and found slot back Ryan Fletcher all alone.
Central's next score took two plays. After Colabella threw an incompletion, speedy senior Khalil Jones dodged a couple of tacklers, broke free and sprinted 49 yards.
The defense delivered again (senior Jimmy Joe Mort recording a quarterback sack) and Central was back in business at the Toronto 46. Five plays later, it was 21-3. Romano rumbled through a huge hole for a 9-yard touchdown. The key play on the Central drive was a 26-yard Colabella-to-Fletcher completion. Fletcher made a spectacular one-handed grab to give the Crusaders a first down at the Red Knight 19.
The final Central touchdown of the first half capped a three-play, 70-yard drive. Colabella found Fletcher again, this time wide open over the middle for a 49-yard scoring strike.
Central ran 17 first-half plays, scoring four times and compiling 235 yards of offense (119 rushing and 116 passing).
Toronto, on the other hand, moved 61 yards on its first possession but could only muster 10 on its next five touches.
Marty Engle recorded two tackles behind the line for the Crusaders on those five Toronto possessions, while Louis Fallon was all over the field making plays.
"It was great," Meek said of his team's opening march. "We took about eight minutes off the clock. We would rather have scored seven than three but we looked good. After that, it was all them.
"Give them credit. They have a veteran team and a good team. They're going to win a lot of games. I'm disappointed with the final score because I thought we would make it more of a ballgame.
"We're going to be a veteran team someday. We have some young kids that are playing hard. We have four senior-dominated teams on our schedule. We've lost to two of them and we have to more down the road. We'll try to knock those other two off as well as win some other games. We can't feel sorry for ourselves. We'll regroup, be positive, correct the mistakes and move forward in the right direction."
Daley said the rise of his defense simply was a matter of "settling down."
"We were a little keyed up and were not being as disciplined as we needed to be on that first drive," he said. "After we got that out of our system, the defense did a great job."
Daley's club stayed in the quick-strike mode to start the third quarter, getting two scores off Toronto fumbles.
Jones recorded both touchdowns, going 21 yards up the gut for his second touchdown of the evening and 15 for a third. He finished the night with four carries for 91 yards and three TDs.
"He's just an outstanding athlete and we know what he can do," Daley said of Jones. "He made some great runs. When he sees an opening, he wants to get to the end zone."
Central's offense compiled 396 yards (259 rushing and 137 passing). Murphy finished with 68 yards on nine carries. Colabella hit on 7 of 12 passes. Fletcher grabbed five for 108 and two touchdowns.
"We do want to be as balanced as possible offensively," Daley said. "We can grind it out a times, which we did in the second half. We know we can score quickly. But there are times when we want to run some clock."
Daley was happy with his offensive line's performance, saying, "our pass protection was better than it was against Columbiana. It's not where we need to be need so we still need to improve."
Meek used just one word to describe the Central offense: "explosive."
"Colabella's been there a long time and they know what they are doing," he said. "We tried to pressure him and it just didn't always work. At times, we did get pressure but he was able to get out of it. It's hard to run with those receivers that long. That was an issue for us.
The Red Knights offense finished with just 139 yards (93 via the ground and 46 through the air). On its final 10 possessions, Meek's club totaled 78 yards.