STEUBENVILLE - Catholic Central is making its 11th appearance in the Ohio high school football playoffs. Racine Southern is a newcomer to the postseason.
The Crusaders and Tornadoes will match 8-2 marks Saturday in the Division VII, Region 25 quarterfinals at Harding Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Central earned the fourth seed in the region while Southern is five. Glouster Trimble, which whipped the Tornadoes 42-14 in Week 10, is the top seed and will host Beallsville. Shadyside, number two, welcomes Fairfield Christian Academy from Lancaster while Caldwell visits number three Malvern.
The home playoff game is Central's first since 2005. That Crusaders club made it all the way to the Division VI championship game, bowing to Delphos St. John. Central has a playoff record of 11-9.
"We saw them in person against Trimble and we thought at that time they have good size and some kids that really get after it," Central's Steve Daley said of the Tornadoes. "Now after watching them on film in more than one game, those things have been confirmed.
"They do have nice size up front on both sides of the ball. They have kids that have some skills. They are good football players."
The Southern offense compiled 3,175 yards during the regular season (2,403 on the ground). The Tornadoes recorded 32 rushing touchdowns and average 30.1 points per game.
Kyle Wickline is in his fourth year as the Southern head coach. His overall record is 16-24. Daley, on the other hand, is in his third year at Central and sports a 17-14 mark with two straight trips to the postseason.
For Southern, based in Meigs County, the 8-2 record marked only the second year the football program has been over .500 since the turn of the millennium. Traditionally, Southern has been strong in basketball and baseball. The Tornadoes baseball team has been to the last seven regional tournaments and the boys basketball squad is one of the 10 winningest programs in Ohio history.
Tyler Barton, a 5-11, 181 pound senior, powers the Southern rushing attack. He has gained 1,342 yards on 182 attempts and crossed the goal 17 times. Quarterback Tristen Wolfe, a 6-1, 165 junior, has 267 rushing stripes, good for six scores. He also has completed 52 of 110 passing attempts for 762 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Junior Paul Ramthun (5-10, 165) has contributed 229 yards to the Southern ground game while junior fullback Ryan Billingsley, 5-10, 255, has 191.
Wolfe's favorite target is split end Hunter Johnson, a 5-10, 158 senior, who has 18 catches good for 303 stripes. Massive tight end Dennis Teaford, a 6-6, 233 pound senior, has seven catches.
"They definitely want to run the ball first," Daley said of the Tornadoes. "If we can get them in a situation where they are forced to throw, then we are doing a good job.
"Their tailback (Barton) is a real good football player and Johnson does a nice job for them on both sides of the ball. They have good size at tight end and their linemen across the board are big bodies."
Senior Brandon Grueser, 5-8, 287, anchors the offensive line from his center spot. Another senior, Wyatt Jarrell (6-1, 206) is an outstanding tackle.
"I'm real impressed with Jarrell," Daley noted. "He moves his feet really well and is aggressive in run blocking. He also uses his feet and his body well in pass protection. Johnson does a nice job on both sides of the ball. They have some players."
Southern finished its regular season with a 34-0 victory over archrival Reedsville Eastern. The Tornadoes scored 27 points off of five first half turnovers. Barton collected 152 rushing yards on 23 carries.
"They have some speed but overall, they're more of a big, pound it at you kind of team," Daley noted. "Defensively, we'll need to be gap sound, stay low and keep our leverage across the front.
"That's our team concept defense. We've done a pretty good job of that most of the year and we are going to get back to that this week."
Defensively, the Tornadoes have allowed 1,895 yards of offense in 10 games and an average of 9.4 points per game. Southern opponents have tried just 94 passes, completing 41 for 546 yards. The Tornadoes have recorded 16 team interceptions.
Wickline's crew has blanked five opponents and is plus 15 in the turnover differential department.
"Defensively, they play a 4-4 base," Daley pointed out. "They have big bodies up front in their down linemen both at tackles and ends. Their linebackers are pretty active and will throw heat at you.
"They get to the ball and are fairly athletics. I really haven't seen a lot of teams throw at them so there will be a feeling out process to see what they are going to do against our different formations. It will be interesting to see how they adjust since we haven't seen them adjust very much."
Offensively, the Crusaders average 372 yards per game (190 via the air) and 43 points.