Central Catholic running back Tre’Von Wade finishes a touchdown run against Trotwood-Madison during the second quarter. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
SIDNEY, Ohio — Trotwood-Madison sophomore running back Raveion Hargrove was as good as advertised in the first half of the Division III state football semifinals against Central Catholic on Friday night.
In a scoreless second half, however, the Irish defense was better, and their work sent Central (12-2) to its 12th straight victory, 21-13 over the Rams at Sidney Memorial Stadium.
It was the third time in the past four years that Central beat the Rams (10-4) deep in the playoffs, and it gives the Irish a chance to defend their state championship at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Columbus.
“It’s awesome to get to do it in back-to-back years,” 16th-year Irish coach Greg Dempsey said. “I’m very proud of these kids after starting off 0-2. Now they’re going to Columbus to play for the state championship.”
Central will face Akron Hoban (13-1), which defeated Zanesville 33-21 in Friday night’s other D-III state semifinal.
Irish junior running back Michael Warren rushed 28 times for 183 yards, including a one-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Tre’Von Wade’s two rushes in the game resulted in TDs.
The Irish defense, which allowed Hargrove to rush for 193 first-half yards and two TDs — both in the first quarter — limited him to 33 yards on 15 second-half carries.
“The coaches just told us at halftime that we had to make plays — fill the gaps and stop [Hargrove],” Irish junior defensive end James Hudson said.
“That’s what we came out and did. This is a great feeling, but we’re not done yet. We need to take care of business [in the finals].”
IN PICTURES: Central Catholic 21, Trotwood-Madison 13
Hargrove (40 carries, 225 yards) sandwiched scoring runs of 43 and 32 yards around Wade’s 25-yard TD burst in the first quarter.
“We had to lock down the run game,” Irish senior nose tackle Ian Meacham said.
“We started out a little slow, and some holes opened up in the first half. But we changed up at halftime, and just played hard in the second half.
“It was an exciting game, and it’s a great experience, two years in a row going back to the Shoe.”
Hargrove finished the season with 3,039 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns in 13 games.
Wade’s first score was set up by Warren’s 66-yard run.
A fumbled punt snap by the Rams’ Roland Walder gave the Irish the ball on the Trotwood 1, setting up Warren’s TD plunge with 9:43 left in the half.
Zach Hoover’s extra-point gave the Irish the lead for good at 14-13.
Central added the game’s final TD when Warren’s 39-yard run set up Wade’s 27-yard score 6:03 before halftime.
Trotwood topped the Irish 373-272 in total offense, but came up short on the scoreboard.
“We started out in a four-man front because we knew they were going to run the ball a lot,” Dempsey said.
“Then we went to a lot of three-man stuff and started blitzing and crossing lanes, and getting into the running lanes.
“The kids did a great job of tackling. They were phenomenal. They did a great job of limiting the damage, and the offense scored just enough points in the first half.
“The kids did a great job not turning the ball over with the [rainy] conditions we had.”
A Trotwood turnover led to Central’s final touchdown.
Rams sophomore quarterback Markell Stephens-Peppers raced 25 yards on a third-and-9 play from his 41, but lost a fumble at the end of the run, giving Central the ball at its 34.
The Irish needed just three plays to find the end zone again.
After quarterback Torrin Campbell threw incomplete on first down, Warren ran for 39 yards, and Wade followed with a 27-yard TD run up the middle on the next play as Central took a 21-13 lead with 6:03 left in the half.
“It was great,” Warren said of the win. “I got some big runs, and Tre’Von did a great job of coming in and finishing things off.
“It’s a great feeling getting back to the championship game but, like coach Dempsey said, you’ve got to put your socks on before you put your shoes on. We don’t just want to get back to the Shoe, we want to win.”
What was the difference in the game?
“The punting game was huge,” Dempsey said. “Zach Hoover pinned them back quite a few times, and we got points off it one time.”
Hoover punted seven times for a 40.7 average.
Central is bidding for its fourth state championship in the past 11 years, having won D-II titles in 2005 and 2012, and the D-III championship last year.
The Irish beat Trotwood 16-12 in the 2012 final, and edged the Rams 17-14 in last year’s D-III semifinals.