If veteran Central Catholic High School football coach Greg Dempsey had any doubts about his Fighting Irish being ready for the Aug. 24 opener against fellow Ohio power Hartley, he need not have worried.
The Irish — playing fast and furious on offense and defense — jumped out to 21-0 lead by halftime against the visiting Hawks then cruised to a 42-17 victory at Gallagher Stadium.
Central quarterback Troy Durden scored on 1, 12 and 70 yards, and Irish receiver/running back Jase Bowen had TD runs of 2 and 20 yards, and added a late 79-yard kickoff-return TD, as Central defeated the Hawks for the third straight year in the season-opener between the two teams.
Durden rushed 15 times for 134 yards, and passed for 65 yards.
“I’m very happy,” Dempsey said. “I’m proud of the defense and the toughness they showed. That’s a tough offense to face because you don’t see it anywhere else. Coach [Ryan] Brown did a great job having us prepared to face that.
“Offensively, I was happy with what we did, We’ve got to get rid of a few sloppiness things. We can’t have those peaks and valleys. Those big plays don’t hurt. Jase made a few plays, Troy made a few plays. We have some good weapons, and hopefully we can continue to get better.”
Although it went for naught, the game’s opening kickoff gave an indication of what was to come for Central.
Jaron Swain streaked 87 yards for an apparent touchdown, but the score was nullified by an Irish holding penalty on the return.
Then, Durden’s first pass attempt was tipped and intercepted, but Hartley gave it right back on the next play, when Hawks quarterback Miles Fleming lost a fumble.
That turnover was followed by Central’s first scoring drive, a 10-play, 48-yard march that closed on Durden’s one-yard keeper, as the Irish took a 7-0 lead 6:35 into the game.
Central added two more TDs early in the second quarter.
Durden capped another 10-play drive, this one covering 77 yards. He eluded a heavy pass rush, and darted 12 yards through the middle for a score as the Irish took a 14-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
A Hartley miscue set up Central’s next score.
A high punt snap sailed past Thomas Mayhan, who was tackled on his 2 by Irish defenders.
A play later, Bowen plunged in for a two-yard TD, and Central owned a 21-0 lead 9:32 before halftime, which came with the Irish defense having held the Hawks to 23 net yards on 27 plays from scrimmage.
“One of our main mottos is ‘Run to the ball,’ and I think we did that really well tonight,” Irish linebacker Justin Schiets said. “The safeties picked up some of the slack when we let them get past the front two lines, and we just swarmed to the ball and made some nice tackles in the open field.”
Bowen added his 20-yard TD run with 4:57 left in the third quarter, giving Central a commanding 28-0 lead it took to the fourth quarter.
Hartley got its first points of the game with 10:42 remaining on Matteo Agriesti’s 28-yard field goal.
But, on the second play after the ensuing kickoff, Durden put the finishing touches on his superb night, bolting for a 77-yard touchdown and a 35-3 lead with 9:49 left.
“I had a little cramp from the last drive, so I was kind of iffy on that,” Durden said of the long TD run. “It definitely worked though. My offensive line did a great job, and I just followed my blockers.
“We definitely completed a lot of things that we’ve been preparing since the summer.”
The Hawks drove 70 yards for a late TD, with Jalen January scoring on a two-yard run, but Bowen put the finishing touches on the Irish’s successful opener by returning the ensuing kickoff 79 yards for a touchdown.
“It was awesome,” Bowen said. “We really executed well, and got the nerves out early. The O line played great, and there were lots of huge holes for Troy and I and Jonzell (Norrils).
“It was a great way to open up the season, and it was really fun. I can’t wait for next week. We’ve been practicing hard. Coach Dempsey has really been on us to reach our potential. The defense really played hard. They were prepared. That was huge. And, we executed well.”
Hartley added a score with 15 seconds remaining, with Fleming hitting Phillip Cole on a 26-yard TD pass.
“We made mistakes, but when you play somebody that good, that’s what happens,” Hartley coach Brad Burchfield said. “They make you pay. If we were playing somebody not as good, it doesn’t happen that way. But they were good enough to capitalize.
“This is the best Central Catholic team that we’ve played in the last four years, and I don’t think it’s really much of a debate. Their skill guys are very dynamic, they’re very physical on defense, and their incredibly well-coached as always. They’re a great football team, and we’re not quite where we’re going to be yet. We’ll get there.”
Central finished with 229 rushing yards on 38 attempts.
Hartley got its offense in gear in the final quarter, and finished with 125 rushing yards, and Fleming was 8-of-16 passing for 111 yards.