By DAVE HANNEMAN
Jase Bowen has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season.
So it seemed an obvious move for Findlay to kick away Toledo Central Catholic’s senior standout to begin Friday’s Three Rivers Athletic matchup at Donnell Stadium.
No, Bowen didn’t touch the ball on that opening kick.
Then again, nobody really touched the guy who did.
Jaron Swain Jr. returned the opening kick 88 yards for a touchdown, Toledo Central Catholic exploded for 31 points in the first quarter and the unbeaten Irish looked every bit like Ohio’s No. 2-ranked Division II team in rolling to a 52-6 romp over the Trojans.
Bowen, who plans to play both football and baseball at Michigan State, and senior quarterback Troy Durden are two of the top veterans back from a Central Catholic team that reached the Division III state semifinals last season. Both scored touchdowns against Findlay, but the Irish had five other players reach the end zone as well.
“When you think balance, most people think run and pass,” said Central Catholic coach Greg Dempsey. “To me, balance is how many guys are getting the ball and what are they doing with it.
“Right now, there are a lot of guys who are contributing to this offense.”
TCC improved to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the TRAC, clinching at least a share of its fifth league championship in the past six seasons. The Irish can cap off an unbeaten regular season when they host Toledo St. John’s (7-2, 5-1 TRAC) next week.
Findlay fell to 4-5 overall, 3-3 in the TRAC.
Findlay High coach Mark Ritzler has had to deal with costly injuries this season and is fielding a rather young team overall. Still, he went into Friday’s game upbeat and positive, especially after last week’s 40-13 win over Lima Senior.
It took TCC less than 15 seconds to pop that bubble.
With Bowen set up on the far side of the field, Swain hauled in Mitchell Taylor’s opening kickoff on the home side of Donnell Stadium. The 5-foot-7, 180-pound senior found space up that right side, cut to the middle of the field and fought through a cluster of teammates and opponents alike, then broke free and was gone, running free into the end zone.
“We as coaches and players thought we were ready to go,” Ritzler said.
“As soon as they ran that opening kickoff back you could just see it, you could just feel it deflate right there on the sideline.”
A Central Catholic defense that was coming off shut-out wins over Toledo Whitmer (17-0), Toledo St. John’s (49-0) and Toledo St. Francis (49-0) was up to the task again.
Findlay went 1-2-3 punt on its first three possessions and the Irish answered every defensive stop with an offensive burst.
Durden had a 40-yard run, then fired a 20-yard TD pass to Bowen to complete TCC’s first drive of the night.
Central Catholic’s second drive boiled down to two plays, basically, a 38-yard run by Jonzell Norrils and a 24-TD romp by Bowen.
Jerod Landrum booted a 29-yard field goal to put TCC up 24-0, and Bowen’s 68-yard punt return to the 2-yard line set up Norrils’ TD plunge with two seconds on the first-quarter clock.
“Coach (Ryan) Brown, our defensive coordinator, and his staff just have the kids dialed in,” said Dempsey, who had to plug seven new starters into this year’s defense.
“The kids have bought in and they’re dialed in. Our coaches have a done a great job of developing those kids over the years and now it’s their turn to step up.”
Central Catholic got its second special teams score of the night just 42 seconds into the second quarter when Ja’Kobe Crowell blocked a punt by Pat Dillon and Andrew Parker scooped it up and ran it in for a score.
A sack, a fumble and a recovery by TCC’s Victor Copeland at the Findlay 29 led to another short TD drive that put Central; Catholic up 45-0 just four minutes into the second quarter.
“If you get two special teams scores, it changes things, especially early in a game,” Dempsey said.
“The big run by Norrils setting up a score, the big punt return by Bowen setting up some points, those are huge plays. We played on a short field all night, and that’s tough for any team to deal with.”
Findlay’s first real offensive threat came in the second quarter. Dillon hooked up with Adam Gilbert on a 34-yard catch-and-run screen pass, then ran for 10 yards on a third-and-5 from the 41. Jacob Rickman got around right end for 25 yards, but Findlay failed to punch it into the end zone after earning a first-and-goal at the 6.
Findlay finally did ended TCC’s unscored-upon streak, though.
Dillon, who was under heavy pressure from Central Catholic’s defense all night, did a masterful scrambling job to avoid a sack. Running to his left, he heaved a long pass down field. Central’s Darius McBride had inside position on Parker Fetterman.
But he leapt a bit early and the pass was perfectly thrown just beyond his reach. Fetterman hauled it in, turned and raced untouched to the end zone to complete the 64-yard play.
Central Catholic had a slight edge to total yards on Findlay, 286 to 208. The Irish had a huge edge, though, in big plays.
“Special teams and defense set things up for them so well,” Ritzler said.
“They don’t give you many opportunities, so you have to take advantage of them when you can. You have to play a perfect game and if you don’t then it steamrolls.”
Ritzler feels his young team will take some hard lessons from Friday’s game. But it may take time.
“Right now, it’s just a tail whipping,” Ritzler said.
“We’ll learn more when we look at the film, but it’s more about attitude and coming out and persevering and the little things that film doesn’t show you. That’s what comes from going through something like this, and then seeing how we bounce back.”
Toledo Central Catholic 31 14 7 0 — 52
Findlay 0 0 0 6 — 6
TCC — Swain 88 kickoff return (Landrum kick)
TCC — Bowen 20 pass from Durden (Landrum kick)
TCC — Durden 24 run (Landrum kick)
TCC — Landrum FG, 30 yards
TCC — Norrils 2 run (Landrium kick)
TCC — Parker, 23-yard blocked punt return (Landrum)
TCC — Reasonover 7 run (Landrum kick)
TCC — Overton 5 run (Duckett kick)
FHS — Fetterman 64 pss from Dillon (kick blocked)
First Downs 17 9
Rushes-yards 39-230 32-82
Passing Yards 56 133
Comp-Att-Int 2-4-0 8-21-0
Punts-Avg. 3-37.3 7-27.7
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-2
Penalties-Yards 7-60 6-40
RUSHING — Norrils 5-54, Overton 7-17, Zak 2-12, Johnson 2-7, Willis 5-18, Collins 2-2. Findlay, Dillon 7-18, Rickman 14-45, Eubanks 1-1, Nunn 2-1, Salama 5-8, Tatum 3-9.
PASSING — Toledo Central Catholic, Durden 2-2-0, 56 yards. Findlay, Dillon 8-21-0, 133 yards.
RECEIVING — Toledo Central Catholic, Bowen 1-20, Griffin 1-36. Findlay, Mullins 2-20, Gilbert 2-39, Fetterman 2-59, Nunn 2-15.