Tigers’ ground game too much for ’Noles

WOODSFIELD – Mark Holenka has grown to like many things about his youthful Shadyside football team through the first two weeks of the season.

He likes its ability to come out of the gates strong and its ability to persevere when momentum shifts.

Both of those came to fruition Friday night on Jay Circosta Boulevard as the Tigers raced to a 21-0 lead and then scored the final 14 after Monroe Central (0-2) scored 14 of its own to go on for a 35-20 victory.

“Monroe Central got its second wind and had all of its adrenaline flowing,” Holenka said. “You can’t give up 21 points, be ready to ice the game away and then make a mistake and soon you’re playing for your life. It’s kind of like what we did last week at Meadowbrook.”

The Tigers (2-0) jumped out on top thanks to the play of their three-headed backfield monster of quarterback Austin Dorris, tailback Chris Littell and fullback Eric Howell.

Littell and Dorris hooked up on a 10-yard scoring toss to get things started. On the Tigers’ next possession, Littell bounced off two would-be Seminole tacklers and plunged in from 3 yards out.

Shadyside made it 21-0 with 3:34 to go in the third when Howell ran the final 6 yards, capping an 8-play drive. Dorris and Littell hooked up on a 28-yard pitch and catch on a third-and-long to keep the drive going.

It appeared Shadyside had started to nail into the Monroe Central coffin.

However, senior Curtis Nixon had other ideas. He took the ensuing kickoff and raced 95 yards, basically untouched, for a touchdown.

“You can not give up a kickoff return for a touchdown when you’re up 21 points,” Holenka said. “Now, you’ve got to play a game. When you’ve got a three-score cushion, it’s kind of nice, but we allowed them to close the gap.”

The Tigers’ offense bogged down and Monroe Central took over on its own 24. Seven plays later, the Seminoles had made it a one-score game. Nixon, who moved to quarterback, found Mike Jones on a 22-yard touchdown pass. Earlier in the drive, Nixon found junior Zach Jorris for a 43-yard gain. Junior Gavin Morton caught the two-point conversion pass from Nixon, making it 21-14 with 7:58 to play.

“We played more like a Seminole football team, especially from the second quarter on,” Monroe Central head coach Jay Circosta said. “We got some stops in the second half, had some momentum, but they put together a big drive when they needed it.”

Shadyside quieted the Seminoles’ crowd when it answered right back with a score of its own just over 5 minutes later. Littell plunged in from a yard out. The big play, however, came when Dorris landed a beautifuly thrown pass to junior Scott Hammond for a 29-yard gain.

“That was a super catch (by Hammond) and he was well covered, too,” Circosta said. “That was a big play for them.”

The Tigers’ defense, which was stout against the Seminoles’ run, but touched up through the air for 184 yards, forced the first Seminoles’ turnover when the ball popped loose and directly into the hands of Zach Meadows, who rumbled it back 54 yards to the 9 yard line.

Howell waltzed into the end zone basically untouched and Dorris was perfect on his fifth PAT kick of the night, making it 35-14.

“I am proud of how we answered them,” Holenka said. “We’ve got some new people playing at different places, which makes a difference. We have to learn to put people away.”

The Seminoles scored on a 6-yard run by Nixon with 53 seconds left after he passed them right down the field.

All told, the Tigers ran for 288 yards and four touchdowns. Littell – the hard-running senior – ran for 104 yards and two scores. He also caught balls for 64 yards and a touchdown.

Dorris, who will be taking a recruiting visit to Ohio State today, finished with 94 yards on the ground and threw the ball effectively, accumulating 157 yards through the air on 10-of-12 accuracy.

Howell finished with 76 yards on the ground.

“All three of them run hard, but I really think Littell just smells the goal line and turns it up when he gets close,” Holenka said. “Our line deserves a lot of that credit because when we get down there close, they have to show that they’re the veterans.”

The Tigers’ line is comprised of Meadows, Jacob Spencer, Cory Banco, Colton Campbell and Hunter Hammond.

Nixon’s debut at quarterback went well. He completed 14 of 17 passes for 184 yards and a score.

“I think we’ve found something there with Curtis at quarterback,” Circosta said. “You always have to go with your best athlete at quarterback. He got a lot of experience tonight and hopefully being able to throw the ball will open up some of the running game.”

Shadyside remains on the road in week 3 when it treks to Bellaire a week from today. Monroe Central, meanwhile, visits River on Friday.

Staskey can be reached at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com