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Irish rally from early deficit to roll to win

11/08/2014, 12:42am EST

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Irish rally for big playoff win

Central Catholic’s Michael Warren returns a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown against Rocky River. He also added four rushing scores. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

The MVP of the Friday's Division III playoff game Friday game at Central Catholic may well have been the scoreboard for not catching fire at any point.

Two offenses went wild Friday, but only one triumphed in the fourth quarter, as the No. 1 seed Fighting Irish kept their season alive with a 70-48 against visiting No. 8 Rocky River. The game featured a 450-yard passer, two running backs with four rushing touchdowns, triumph and agony on special teams, a massive deficit erased, and nerves at every turn.

So how to sum it up?

“Oh, man,” Central Catholic coach Greg Dempsey said with a laugh, “to hell if I know.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for more photos from this game

Central Catholic (9-2) survived two separate 21-point deficits in the first half. On the Pirates’ first three possessions, Rocky River quarterback Matt Lowry threw touchdown passes of 65 and 63 yards to receiver Patrick Connors, and added a four-yard strike to Evan Nugent. Through six pass attempts, Lowry had completed five passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns, and the Pirates (6-5) held a 21-0 lead 10 minutes into the game before a stunned crowd at Central Catholic.

“Oh, we were shocked,” said Central Catholic running back Michael Warren, who led all rushers with 276 yards. “The Pirates played a great game. They came out hard, and I think we underestimated them in the beginning.”

It was Warren who gave the Irish — who had failed to a convert a fourth-and-short in the red zone on their second possession — their first sign of life. Warren took a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 21-7.

Central parlayed the good fortune by forcing the Pirates to punt, though the Irish coughed up the ball on the ensuing possession. Lowry scored on an 11-yard run four plays later to claim a 28-7 lead.

Central drove down the field in response, but Connors picked off Irish quarterback Marcus Winters inside the 5-yard line.

A night that looked hopeless for Central suddenly turned around.

“It was gut-check time,” Dempsey said. “If you're a senior, your career is looking like it's over down 28-7. It's was gut-check time, man-up time, and the kids made just enough plays.”

The Irish stopped the Pirates, who tried a baffling fake punt while up 28-7 at their own 9-yard line. Central blew up the fake, and Warren scored the next play on a six-yard touchdown run.

Central Catholic's defense forced the Pirates off the field two more times, and the offense came through both times. Joe Dandino returned a punt more than 40 yards, Warren and Tre’Von Wade both scored from 20 yards away, and the Irish — through some bit of cosmic fortune — went into halftime tied at 28.

Both teams came out of halftime by scoring on their first three possessions, though Rocky River made a crucial mistake by missing an extra point that would have tied the game at 49. Instead, the Irish pushed the lead to eight with another Warren touchdown to go ahead 56-48.

In a game during which neither team could stop the other, Central's defense suddenly shut down the Pirates' offense.

In the fourth quarter, Rocky River had four unremarkable possessions: a three-and-out, two turnover on downs, and an interception.

“Our defense stepped up a lot and shut a great offense down,” Warren said. “We made a lot of adjustments at halftime and got this W.”

Meanwhile, the Central ground game of Warren and Wade never slowed. Wade added his fourth touchdown of the night with 2:27 to go clinch Central's trip to the second round, where it will play Bowling Green.

Wade finished with 148 yards and four touchdowns, while Warren found the end zone five times.

Lowry finished 19-of-40 passing for 455 yards and five touchdowns, and and added two scores on the ground.

It was a crazy night, but the Irish were happy to have lived through it.

“Yeah, we sputtered, and yeah, we gave up some points, and yeah, we failed in the red zone,” Dempsey said. “But it was a great team effort tonight. Special teams was the spark, defense got a couple stops for the offense, and the offense got clicking.”

Contact Nicholas Piotrowicz at:, 724-6110, or on Twitter @NickPiotrowicz

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