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Football Lookahead: Blue Dons, Crusaders Meet in Battle of Unbeatens

October 24, 2013
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

The game many had circled on their football calendar is here.

And, as many hoped, both teams are undefeated.

Steubenville Catholic carries its 8-0 mark into Jimmy Carey Stadium to face 7-0 Madonna and it truly will be an Ohio Valley Game of the Week.

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Ryan Fletcher and the Crusaders have their toughest test to date.

Classic I was a year ago at Harding Stadium when the Blue Dons scored two late touchdowns to come from behind and knock off the Crusaders, 21-20.

Classic II kicks off at 7 p.m. Saturday.

In addition to it being a clash between two good, undefeated football teams, it is a matchup of two of the premier senior quarterbacks in the Ohio Valley and even in their respective states. Each has a different style.

Central's Brenton Colabella is a classic passer. He has been that for the past four years and goes into the game as only the second Ohio Valley quarterback in history with more than 7,000 career passing yards.

On the other hand, Madonna's Ross Comis is an all-stater, and has been the starting signal caller for the Blue Dons the past three seasons. He has gained more notoriety by running the football rather than passing. However, he can pass and does it very efficiently.

Comis has racked up 908 yards rushing with 105 carries and has scored 19 touchdowns via the ground. He has completed 62.3 percent of his passes (43 of 69) for 808 yards and nine touchdowns.

Colabella has completed 130 of 190 passes for 1,620 yards, with 25 touchdowns. Colabella is even more efficient with his passing, hitting on 68.4 percent.

The unbeaten and state-ranked Blue Dons are "everything they're made out to be,'' according to Crusaders coach Steve Daley.

"They're real good. We know what is in front of us this week.

"This is a case where our kids and their kids, especially the seniors, have played against each other since they were in fifth or sixth grade. They know our kids and we know them. They have played each other in football, then they go to basketball and compete, then it's on to baseball. The kids are well aware of each other."

Central and Madonna will meet for the 14th time. The Crusaders hold a 7-5-1 series lead. The Blue Dons, however, have won four straight since it was revived in 2009.

Both squads feature high-octane offenses and stingy defenses. The Blue Dons are outscoring opponents by a 52-9 margin. Central, on the other hand, averages 51 points per game while allowing 11.

Comis and Elliot Nero lead Madonna's attack.

Nero is seven yards shy of 1,000 rushing stripes and has 13 touchdowns on the ground.

"It's really a case of not giving them yardage after contact," Daley said when discussing how to slow down the Blue Dons attack. "That hurt us last year. We were in the right spots and were in position to make plays. Then, they gained yards after contact or made guys miss.

"That's the type of athlete you are dealing with in Comis. He is going to make plays. We have to limit the plays he makes and not allow the big plays. Defensively, we need to be disciplined and create opportunities for ourselves."

It was Nero who caught a Comis swing pass and dashed 6 yards to the end zone with the winning touchdown last year as the clock was running down. Earlier in the fourth period, Comis ran for a 7-yard touchdown.

In Colabella's freshman and sophomore seasons, Central depended almost solely on the pass, but like in 2012, the Crusaders have a running attack that is capable of making big plays.

In 2012, it was Doug Maslowski that provided most of the rushing for the Crusaders. This season it is senior Khalil Jones. He has gained 539 yards to date with 42 carries, with 12 of them hitting the end zone.

The Crusaders have rushed for 1,687 rushing yards in rolling to the school's first 8-0 start since 1971. Ryan Fletcher has contributed 334 yards and Stone Romano 243.

"Jones isn't real big, but he is extremely fast," Madonna coach Doug Taylor said. "They have a pretty good big back in Stone Romano (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) that they use very effectively. Central has a good mix of run with the pass, which makes them much more difficult to defend.

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