Posted: 4:31 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016

Catholic Central turnaround is for real

By Bryant Billing

Contributing Writer

SPRINGFIELD —

Over the last three years, Catholic Central’s upperclassmen have turned the football team from a sure win for opponents into one of the Ohio Heritage Conference’s best.

Central finished 0-10 in both 2013 and 2014 and lost every game those seasons by an average of 37.6 points. The turnaround began last year when the Irish went 4-6, and it has continued this season.

The Irish are 4-0 for the first time since 2007 and have won by an average margin of nearly 30 points a game. They’ve shutout their last two opponents (Bradford and Southeastern) and feel confident heading into a conference game on Friday night at Northeastern.

“This is new and exciting for the guys,” coach Mike McKenna said. “They never experienced much winning on the football field. A lot of these guys have been starting since they were freshmen. Now they’re gaining confidence. But they’re not worried about anything but Northeastern; that’s what they’re focused on now. And the good thing is that they’re not overconfident. They know they’ve still got a lot prove.”

The Jets (1-3) have lost two in a row since beating Northwestern in Week 2. But McKenna said Northeastern has more size than his team and will be a challenge to stop. Catholic Central already has plenty of experience against bigger teams.

“A lot of our opponents have been bigger than us, both with bigger rosters and bigger players physically,” McKenna said. “Certain kids have been faster than us too. Our guys have learned how to play against that.”

Junior quarterback Colin Kelly, who threw for four touchdowns last week against Southeastern, has stepped up to lead the Catholic Central offense. Kelly is a younger brother of former Central standout quarterbacks Brendan and Brian Kelly, but he couldn’t have taken over this year if not for Cossy Catanzaro.

Catanzaro, a senior, was the team’s starter from midway through 2013 up until this season’s opener against Greenon. McKenna said that after Central’s offense struggled early against Greenon, Catanzaro volunteered to play at tight end and let Kelly play quarterback.

“He’s really bolstered our offense since he moved to tight end,” McKenna said. “He made a big sacrifice, but that’s Cossy. He’s the ultimate team player.”

Fullback Thomas Kavanagh and running back Sean Alexander have also helped the offense. Kavanagh ran for two touchdowns against Bradford, and Alexander caught two touchdown passes against the Trojans.

Friday’s game against the Jets is the first of three crucial upcoming games for Central. The Irish travel to Greeneview (3-1) on Sept. 30 and host state-ranked Mechanicsburg (4-0) on Oct. 7.

“Our schedule isn’t getting any easier, it’s only getting harder as we go into the conference,” McKenna said. “But our philosophy is to go only one week, one moment at a time. We’re only going to focus on the next moment.”

• The field at Evans Stadium is ready to go, and Springfield will play there for the first time this season on Friday against Lebanon.

Both the Wildcats and Warriors are 3-1 and coming off games decided by last-second passes. Springfield’s Danny Davis caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Leonard Taylor as time expired to beat Centerville by a touchdown last week, and Lebanon’s Dakota Allen threw a 35-yard pass to Jordan Campbell with 12 seconds left for a game-winning score against Beavercreek.

Allen led the GWOC in passing in the regular season last year and has thrown for 798 yards and six touchdowns so far this season. He’s also rushed for 177 yards and five scores.

Lebanon’s offense averages 25 points per game, but its defense allows an average of 24 points. The Warriors lost by four touchdowns to Kings in Week 1 and rebounded with wins over Loveland and Fenwick before coming back last week to beat the Beavers.

Davis’ touchdown catch capped off what was a monster four games to start the season. Davis has amassed 1,216 all-purpose yards and has scored six touchdowns.