MOGADORE, Ohio - A whole lot of Gary Strain and a couple of critical second-half mistakes spelled big problems for Steubenville Catholic in its Region 21 playoff opener Friday.
Strain, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior, ran for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns as top-seeded Mogadore rolled to a 49-24 victory at Wildcat Field. With the victory, the Wildcats (11-0) advance to face Berlin Western Reserve in the second round.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders (6-5) left Summit County knowing their mistakes (special teams miscues and a costly penalty) severely hurt their chances to pull an upset in their first postseason appearance since 2005.
Down 14-6 at the half, Steve Daley's club surrendered scores on Mogadore's first three possessions of the third quarter. Two were set up by Jake Cramer kickoff returns and the third thanks to facemask penalty on a punt.
Cramer's run on the second-half kick gave his team a first down at the 50. Eight plays, Brandon Berry bolted in from 11 yards out and Riley Jones' kick made it 21-6 Mogadore.
The eighth-seeded Crusaders answered immediately, moving 53 yards in three snaps. Senior Doug Maslowski broke two tackles, spun out of a third and raced 40 yards to the end zone. The run for the 2-pointer (Steubenville Central failed all four of its conversion attempts) was stopped short.
Cramer then stung the Crusaders again, taking the kick all the way to the 19.
Strain bulled over from the 2 and Jones was perfect again, advancing the Mogadore advantage to 28-12.
After the defense recorded a stop, the Wildcats put the game on ice, Starting at their 43, after the Crusaders penalty, the Division VI AP poll champions marched 57 yards in six plays. Strain recorded the six-pointer on a 7-yard run.
The Crusaders would get two more scores, Brenton Colabella hitting Zack Herrington from 11 yards out and Kyle Laukert from 21 stripes away.
''They took control of the game there,'' Daley said of the Mogadore performance in the third quarter. ''Strain is a heck of a player and they were able to give us some problems with splits on the line. We were late adjusting to it. They were getting off the ball, beating us at the point of attack and that was the difference.
''Had we come out and got a stop, then scored and evened it up, things may have been different. Instead, they pulled ahead by two scores and we let it get away from us.''
Strain rumbled for 214 yards on 24 carries to pace Mogadore. Berry added 106 on 14 trips and also scored three times. As a team, the Wildcats had 447 yards of offense (355 on the ground and 92 via the air).
Colabella threw for 322 yards (hitting 33 of 52 attempts). Herrington had 13 catches for 134. Laukert nine and Ryan Fletcher seven.
Mogadore got on the board first early in the opening period thanks to a 40-yard burst by Strain. Jones added the extra point.
Steubenville Catholic answered early in the second quarter on a 19-yard Colabella strike to Fletcher. Running a skinny post, Fletcher grabbed the pigskin in the center of the end zone, took a few shots from the defense but was able to hold on for the score. Stone Romano's conversion try was blocked by Strain.
Berry's 13-yard scamper combined with another Jones boot put the Wildcats up 14-6. The Mogadore offense was moving on its next possession before Central's Fletcher came through with a big defensive play, picking off Anthony Ricci near mid-field.
Starting at the Wildcat 44, the Crusaders moved to the 14 following Colabella completions to Michael Carapellotti, Fletcher and Laukert (his catch turned a fourth-and-5 into a new set of downs). Unfortunately, Catholic Central was unable to capitalize, three passes falling incomplete and a fourth dropped in the end zone.
''We knew what we were up against coming in,'' Daley noted. ''Mogadore's a good team. We had to step it up a little more than we did and take advantage of opportunities when we had them. That's a learning thing.
''I feel bad for our seniors. We're losing nine good ones. They worked hard and put everything on the line. They are going to be missed.''