STEUBENVILLE - The biggest question for Columbiana coach Bob Spaite was how his inexperienced offensive line would hold up Friday night against an always stingy Monroe Central defense.
After watching his Clippers' dive option ran to perfection to the tune of 291 yards and a 13-7 victory, the coach received the answer he was looking for.
Columbiana's front wall consistently gained a solid push from the snap and the establishment early of fullback Brandon Hacker allowed the option game to flourish.
CENTRAL running back Curtis Nixon is wrapped up by a host of Columbiana tacklers during Friday’s game at Harding Stadium in Steubenville. Additional images may be found at cu.timesleaderonline.com
''Our offensive line did a great job,'' Spaite said as his team dealt the Seminoles a disappointing defeat on neutral ground at Harding Stadium. ''That was the group everyone said would be a question mark and they played great.
''Our line coaches had them ready and they played hard.''
Hacker bulled his way to 96 yards on 19 carries, an average of better than five yards per tote. That consistently enabled senior Austin Barbato to work his magic on the option. Entering his third season under center, Barbato has an uncanny knack of reading the defense and knowing just the right moment to pull and go.
''We felt coming in that was one of the best quarterbacks we'd face,'' said a dejected Monroe Central coach Jay Circosta. ''We practiced all week against that offense and they didn't do anything we didn't practice against.
''But that quarterback is a great runner and he's elusive and once they got the inside give going, they were tough.''
Barbato led the Clippers with 158 yards on 22 carries, with the first of his two touchdowns coming in the second quarter.
Columbiana was able to drive consistently but Monroe had a habit of stiffening inside the 30. Barbato finally struck paydirt on a 15-yard option keeper with 8:47 showing.
Monroe answered as Kole Hogue hauled in a short swing pass from Tyler Kinchen and barreled in from 7 yards out to knot the score. The Seminoles never got inside the 15-yard line again.
As impressive as the Clippers' offense was it was outshined by their defense.
Columbiana made a living in the 'Noles backfield, bottling up the ground game and forcing Kinchen to throw on the run.
The Monroe senior finished 92 yards passing but was just 12 of 26 as he was never able to set up and get proper footing instead needing to throw off balance simply to avoid being sacked.
''Our offense was in the tank,'' Circosta said. ''They had a lot of guys in the box and were bringing a lot of guys and they beat us in the trenches.''
Monroe's usual potent ground game managed only 48 yards on 26 carries, with Kinchen totaling 27.
''This was a big win for us,'' Spaite said. ''It was a great high school football game between two great teams.
''Monroe is a classy program and they are well coached.''
Like Columbiana, the Seminoles have a slew of new faces along their offensive line, with senior C.J. Wise wise as the lone returnee. It may take some time for the new group to obtain cohesion.
Unfortunately, the road doesn't get any easier as the Seminoles entertain rival Shadyside Friday in Woodsfield, a 24-13 winner against Strasburg.
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