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Central Catholic wins slugfest for state title

12/05/2014, 12:42am EST
Central wins slugfest, state title

Central Catholic celebrates defeating Athens 56-52 during the Division III state football championship Thursday, 12/04/14, in Columbus, Ohio. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

COLUMBUS — It was the ultimate test of run-versus-pass in Thursday night’s Division III state football championship between Central Catholic and second-ranked The Plains Athens.

The Irish did their usual damage on the ground, and tried to contain Athens’ vaunted aerial attack, which this season generated a state-record 861 points.

When all was settled at Ohio Stadium, Central (13-2) proved on this night that land was a tad better than air by taking a thrilling 56-52 victory.

On a fourth-and-1 play, senior quarterback Marcus Winters ran seven yards for the game-winning touchdown with just 15 seconds remaining.

PHOTO GALLERY: Central Catholic wins Div. III state title

PHOTO GALLERY: The Central Catholic 2014 Season in Review


  • Championship Game — “Irish capture D-III state crown” View | Purchase
  • Photography — The season’s best photos in “The Long Fight” View | Purchase
  • Full Season — Team photo with all players identified and game-by-game synopses View | Purchase

“I had to keep everybody else calm, so we could win the game,” said Winters of the winning march, which covered 71 yards on 12 plays and included three clutch fourth-down conversions. “We made the fourth-down plays, and we just came out and won the game.

“Coach called a play, ‘19-Q,’ which is a sweep left for the quarterback. He said, ‘Get the first down.’ I broke a tackle and just scored. It felt great because we knew we just won the game.”

For Central and 15th-year head coach Greg Dempsey it was their third state championship in 10 seasons, this time won in the first state final played in the Horseshoe in 25 years. The Irish won Division II state titles in 2005 and 2012.

Winters’ winning TD came after Athens had gone ahead 52-49 with 2:52 to play on Trae Williams’ two-yard run.

“We’ve done this three times but it’s just as good every time,” Dempsey said. “There’s nothing old about this. The resiliency these kids showed tonight is the same resiliency that served them when we were 1-2 and people were doubting them early in the year. They just kept battling back tonight.”

Was this the greatest game in Dempsey’s career?

“It was definitely the wildest one with the most on the line,” he said. “No doubt about that. This place hasn’t seen a state final in 25 years, and I guess we made up for that a little bit tonight. I don’t think you could see a more exciting football game with the heart and passion and fire both teams played with.”

The Bulldogs (14-1), who were playing in their first state final, got a magnificent effort in defeat from Ohio’s 2014 Mr. Football, Joe Burrows, an Ohio State quarterback commit, who completed 25 of 43 for 446 and six touchdowns, plus ran 10 times for 54 yards.

The Irish rushed 59 times for 501 yards, led by sophomore back Michael Warren, who gained 194 yards on 28 attempts. Winters carried 12 times for 134 yards and three TDs, and was eight of 17 passing for 153 yards and two scores.

Completing the ground attack was the third W in Central’s “3W” backfield, Tre’Von Wade, who ran 17 times for 158 yards and a TD.

Senior receiver and defensive back Jermiah Braswell was also instrumental in the win, with three catches for 38 yards and a TD, plus and interception.

Athens wasted no time getting on the scoreboard on its first possession.

Burrow passed 15 yards to Adam Luehrman to get to midfield, then broke free of Simeon Washington’s sack attempt and scrambled 49 yards to the Irish 1.

Williams scored on the next play and Athens led 7-0 just 70 seconds into the game.

But Central answered quickly after Deion Green returned the ensuing kickoff 44 yards to the Athens 42.

Irish sophomore back Michael Warren ran eight straight times to cover those 42 yards, including a one-yard plunge for the score, and Central had a 7-7 tie with 8:00 left in the first quarter.

Irish quarterback Marcus Winters struck the game’s next big blow, streaking 80 yards around right end for a touchdown, as Central took a 14-7 lead with 4:20 left in the first.

Athens answered back, however, as Burrow once again stepped out of trouble in the pocket and fired a 54-yard TD pass to Ryan Luehrman with 30 seconds left in the first quarter.

But Central’s James Hudson broke through to block Nate Gribble’s extra-point kick, and the Irish took a 14-13 lead into the second quarter.

The Irish extended their lead to 21-13 with 4:19 left in the first half when Winters, on a fourth-and-5 play, hit Jermiah Braswell on a 19-yard TD connection. Braswell made a terrific diving, over-the-shoulder grab to complete the play.

But 4:19 was plenty of time for Burrow, who drove the Bulldogs 76 yards on 11 plays for a touchdown.

Burrow extended the drive by breaking free of a sack attempt to complete a 32-yard pass to Adam Luehrman to the Irish 8. Luehrman then made a leaping grab in the back of the end zone with 50 seconds left in the half.

Athens went for two, but Williams was driven out of bound at the 5, and Central took its 21-19 advantage to halftime.

The Bulldogs stopped Central short on a fake-punt play on the first Irish possession after the break, then launched a seven-play, 62-yard scoring drive to retake the lead.

Burrow hit a key 19-yard pass to Zacciah Saltzman on a third-and-10 play from the Central 48, then connected with Saltzman on a 29-yard TD pass with 8:19 left in the third quarter.

Burrows’ subsequent two-point conversion pass attempt was incomplete, and Athens’ lead remained at 25-21.

Central responded quickly, moving 62 yards on four plays, sparked by Tre’Von Wade’s 35-yard run to begin the march.

Warren capped the drive on an 18-yard TD run around right end, and Brock Quinlan’s fourth PAT kick of the game put the Irish up 28-25 with 7:10 left in the third.

The back-and-forth battle continued as Burrow moved the Bulldogs 72 yards on seven plays, including a crucial 39-yard completion to Ryan Luehrman on a third-and-14 play from the Athens 45.

Burrow closed with an eight-yard TD pass to Adam Luehrman and, after another failed conversion pass, the Bulldogs led 31-28 with 5:129 left in the third quarter.

The game’s momentum swung might have swung after Central’s next drive stalled and Brock Quinlan missed left on a 32-yard field-goal try.

Instead, Jermiah Braswell swung it back to the Irish, intercepting Burrow at the Bulldogs’ 40.

It was just the second interception thrown all season by Burrow, who had upped his TD pass total to 61 by then.

On the next play, Wade zipped 40 yards around left end for a TD, and the Irish were back on top 35-31, a lead they took to the fourth quarter.

But Burrow went back to work, driving the Bulldogs 77 yards on 10 plays, and hitting a wide-open Heath Wiseman on a 10-yard TD pass, and Athens was back on top 38-35 with 10:15 left in regulation.

Central then got a 12-yard TD run from Winters with 7:38 left for a 42-38 Irish lead, but Burrow answered with a 40-yard TD pass to Ryan Luehrman to put Athens back ahead 45-42 with 6:47 to play.

Contact Steve Junga at:, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.

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Division III State Final At Ohio Stadium

Central Catholic     14   7   14   21   -  56

The Plains Athens  13   6   12   21   -  52

A-Williams 1 run (Gribble kick)

CC-Warren 1 run (Quinlan kick)

CC-Winters 80 run (Quinlan kick)

A-R. Luehrman 54 pass from Burrow (kick blocked)

CC-Braswell 19 pass from Winters (Quinlan kick)

A-A. Luehrman 8 pass from Burrow (run failed)

A-Saltzman 29 pass from Burrow (pass failed)

CC-Warren 18 run (Quinlan kick)

A-A. Luehrman 8 pass from Burrow (pass failed)

CC-Wade 40 run (Quinlan kick)

A-Wiseman 10 pass from Burrow (Gribble kick)

CC-Winters 12 run (Quinlan kick)

A-R. Luehrman 40 pass from Burrow (Gribble kick)

CC-Warren 67 pass from Winters (Quinlan kick)

A-Williams 2 run (Gribble kick)

CC-Winters 8 run (Quinlan kick)

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