STEUBENVILLE - One fourth-quarter defensive stop followed closely by one critical turnover made all the difference in one heck of a high school football game Saturday at Harding Stadium.
Columbiana clipped Catholic Central 38-35 in the contest that featured 768 yards of total offense. The winners rolled to 339 yards on the ground while the Crusaders collected 369 through the air.
Bob Spaite's defense recorded the big stop early in the final period. Central, thanks to a Chris Murphy fumble recovery set up shop at the Columbiana 27. A pass interference call gave the Crusaders a first-and-goal at the 8. Junior quarterback Brenton Colabella misfired on two attempts before finding senior Kyle Laukert for seven. On fourth-and-1, the Clippers stiffened and stopped sophomore Stone Romano short of the goal.
Steve Daley's club came right back with a huge defensive stance of its own, junior Jake McCann recording a key tackle on third down. The critical turnover, unfortunately, came on the Columbiana punt. The Crusaders returner lost the handle and the Clippers recovered at the 28.
On the next play, Britton Steiginga, who as Daley said earlier in this week can flat out fly, made Central pay for the miscue. He broke loose for a 72-yard touchdown jaunt, allowing his team to grab a 32-21 lead.
"That was the game right there," Daley said. "If we could have capitalized on that opportunity and taken the lead, things could have gone a different way at the end.
"It was a heck of a game. You had two teams that really battled. I give Columbiana a ton of credit, their kids never quit. Our kids didn't quit either. People got their money's worth - it was 48 minutes of good football."
Columbiana, now 2-1, got on the board first when Steiginga scooped up a Central fumble and returned it 12 yards. Brandon Hacker added the conversion kick. The Crusaders responded immediately, going 68 yards in just three plays. Colabella hit senior Zach Herrington for 39 yards (the 6-4 wide receiver seemed to pick the ball right off the shoulders of the Columbiana defender). Laukert and Colabella then hooked up for a 29-yard score. Senior Doug Maslowski nailed the kick.
Central grabbed a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter, Colabella hitting a diving Michael Carapellotti in the endzone. The 21-yard scoring play came following an interception by junior Ryan Fletcher. Maslowski again drilled the extra point kick.
The Clippers tied things just before the half on a 22-yard jaunt by Steiginga. The senior speedster took a direct snap from the wildcat formation after starting quarterback Nate Huk left the game with an injury.
Daley's gridders went ahead 21-14 early in the third quarter, Colabella hitting Laukert again, this time from 28 yards away. Romano split the uprights on his first conversion try.
Columbiana then reeled off 18 unanswered points. With Huk sidelined, Spaite changed things up and went with the stacked I formation, featuring two tight ends. The maneuver caused some issues for the Crusaders. In the first half, Central held the Clippers to 104 rushing yards (65 coming on one drive). After the injury, the visitors rolled to 274 on the ground.
"We were well prepared as far as their formations go and what they like to do out of them," Daley noted. "The kids were recognizing things in the first half and making plays. Once they went to the double tight, stacked I, it took away our recognition a little bit. It came down to man on man and they won a couple of those battles."