Kennedy stopped by Steubenville Central

STEUBENVILLE — Catholic Central pulled off a major surprise on a steamy Saturday night inside Harding Stadium, knocking off state-ranked John F. Kennedy 39-23.

The Crusaders (3-2) did it with a potent rushing attack, running for 398 yards and four touchdowns, and a defense that delivered at just the right time.

“It’s great; it’s just great,” coach Steve Daley said about Central’s first victory over the Eagles since 2002. “I couldn’t be happier for our kids. They believed they could come in here and do this, and they did.

“We preached all week that JFK wasn’t going to come down here and feel sorry for us because we have 22 guys dressed. They played like young men tonight, and I couldn’t be prouder of the effort.”

Central, which entered with a two-game losing streak, took the opening kick and quickly marched 66 yards for a score. It came on a 7-yard Justin Hartzell to Geno DiBiase pass. Hartzell was 6-for-6 on the march for 48 yards.

Daley then rolled the dice and won as his Crusaders executed an onside kick to perfection with Matt Bell recovering the loose pigskin at the JFK 48. A strong 30-yard run by Levi Thompson made it 12-0 Central. Hartzell was shaken up earlier during the march but was able to return.

JFK, the defending Ohio Division VII champion, cut the deficit to five (12-7) thanks to a 60-yard drive that culminated when tailback Jordan Edmondson took a pitch from quarterback Greg Valent, stopped in his tracks and hit Valent for a 7-yard score.

On its first touch of the second quarter, Central went up 18-8 when Hartzell faked a handoff to Craig Smith, turned up field and showed his sprinter’s speed, racing 66 yards untouched to the end zone.

With 3:05 left in the half, Central made it 24-7 on one tough run by Smith. He bounced off several JFK defenders, broke a tackle and raced 43 yards for a touchdown.

A late JFK scoring attempt was snuffed out when Jah Sawyer delivered an interception in the end zone.

JFK, which overcame a 14-point deficit to whip Crestview last week, took the second half kick and marched 60 yards to make it 24-14. The score came on an 8-yard pass from Valent to Alec Burzynski.

The Eagles pulled to within three with 9:59 left on a 71-yard Valent to Hyland Burton pass. Burton got behind the Central defense and was off to the races after catching the Valent toss.

Central answered in a huge way on its next possession when Hartzell again faked the option pitch, turned up field and raced 73 yards to the end zone with 8:45 to go. Thompson ran for the two-point conversion, and it was 32-21 Crusaders.

JFK got on the board again with 4:21 to play via a safety, which came after Sawyer picked off another pass, this one in the JFK end zone. Central drew a flag for an illegal block, giving the Eagles two additional points.

The ensuing Central free kick then went out of bounds, giving JFK a first down at the Central 45. The Crusader defense, however, rose up and delivered a huge stop. Thompson sacked Valent on fourth down to thwart any JFK threat.

On the second play of Central’s drive following the turnover on downs, Thompson burst loose up the middle and galloped 59 yards for a touchdown. David Miller’s extra point finished the scoring and sealed the upset.

Hartzell paced Central’s ground attack with 171 yards on 12 carries. Smith finished with 126 and Thompson 96. Through the air, Hartzell completed 10 passes for 122 yards and a score.

The Eagles, also 3-2, did collect 115 rushing yards to go along with 268 through the air. Burton finished with 177 receiving yards and Valent passed for 218.

“They are a good football team, and we knew that coming in,” JFK coach Jeff Bayuk said. “I am really proud of the way our kids fought back in the second half. I think going forward we’ll be fine.

“When you are young and learning, it takes a while to figure things out. We started three freshmen tonight. That makes it tough, but they are getting better. We’re real excited about the future, and we showed a lot of heart tonight.”