Getting it together
With full complement of players, Central clicks
In its first game with a full roster, the Central High School football team had its most consistent offensive performance of the season Saturday in a 37-20 victory over Gateway at Stocker Stadium.
The Warriors (1-2) paired the offensive success with defensive intensity, as Shaun Stepisnik had a pick-six and Anthony Zubiate made big tackles all over the field against the Olympians (1-1). With several players returning from suspension, Central coach Shawn Marsh said it was the Warriors’ most complete game of the season.
“It’s definitely nice to get guys back and everybody did a great job today,” Marsh said. “I thought we played great together as a team today. It was an all-around effort and I think our special teams were much better this week, so it was a good weekend.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Central struck first when quarterback Max Marsh took an option-keeper 10 yards for a touchdown. After Max Marsh started the first two games of the season, Ryan Weller stepped into the starting role during his first appearance of the season. Shawn Marsh said when every quarterback is available, the backup typically leads the first drives of the second and fourth quarters.
After Central’s first score, Gateway responded quickly on an athletic play from Xavier Delk. Facing fourth and short, Delk took an option-keeper into a pile of Central defenders. After the play stalled for a moment, Delk bounced to the outside and ran for a 60-yard touchdown, sprinting untouched the rest of the way.
Central’s next two drives were marred by penalties and bad snaps, then Delk made another big play to put Gateway on top, dropping in a 50-yard touchdown pass to Ajonte Manlove on a go route to put the Olympians up 12-6 late in the first half. The Warriors’ final drive before the break ended with another bad shotgun snap.
Central’s run game got going in the second half.
After a short completion, Central had two runs of nearly 20 yards, and two more runs put the ball near the goal line. Cade Balleweg took a sweep in for a 1-yard touchdown. Max Marsh gave Central the lead by diving in on the 2-point conversion.
The Warriors, long known as a passing team, started using two-back sets in shotgun formation to attack the Gateway from sideline to sideline.
Shawn Marsh said the variety of runners Central has — Zubiate as a running back, Balleweg as a slot receiver/running back, Joey Estep as a fullback, plus both quarterbacks — gives its offense another dimension.
“When you have a couple backs who can give you yardage — and we really have four backs and two quarterbacks who run and do some things,” Shawn Marsh said. “Guys who can get in there and block, all of that makes a big difference. When you have a guy like Cade and you can use him in so many different scenarios, it’s great to have that versatility.”
The Olympians had a string of negative plays, giving the Warriors another short field, but Central couldn’t take advantage and punted. Central’s defense backed up Gateway once again and this time, the Warriors couldn’t help but take advantage of field position.
A high snap on Gateway’s punt rolled to the 1-yard line before the punter covered the ball. Weller dove in for the touchdown one play later.
The Olympians had another bad shotgun snap on the next drive, this time recovered by the Warriors, and Balleweg ended the ensuing 20-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Gateway’s next two drives ended with a safety and the pick-six before Delk connected on another touchdown pass late in the game.
For the first time this season, Central had more yards on the ground than through the air. The Warriors had only 18 yards passing to 216 rushing, with Zubiate’s 16 carries and 89 yards leading the way.
Balleweg finished with 13 carries for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Central scored in three quarters against Gateway after putting up points in only one quarter during its first two games.