CENTERBURG – The chant grew louder throughout the game.
Earlier In the week, a newspaper in central Ohio printed that the Centerburg Trojans should defeat the visiting Lucas Cubs on Friday “by at least three touchdowns.”
So, from the players to the fans, the Lucas Cubs kept shouting “21 underdog” throughout the game.
The chant fired up the visitors enough to score on the opening kickoff, seize an early 14-0 lead and cruise to a 38-14 nonconference victory.
“Our guys were a little upset about that (prediction),” Lucas coach Scott Spitler admitted. “It’s an enemy by itself. It’s another sports matchup thing.”
Even after coming off five straight playoff appearances, Lucas (2-0) still isn’t getting a lot of respect from outside Richland County. Despite defeating Danville last week for the second straight season, the Cubs were dismissed by sportswriters as they prepared for a revamped and much-improved Centerburg team.
Lucas flushed those ideas away just 10 seconds into the game.
Carson Hauger took the opening kickoff 77 yards for a touchdown, leaving Cubs fans exhilarated and Trojans fans silent.
Several minutes later, Ethan Wallace intercepted a pass and returned it to the Centerburg 10. Three plays later, Tommy Zirzow scored from one yard out to give Lucas an early 14-0 lead.
“This is such a tough place to play – it’s always been a great atmosphere for the fans – so we wanted to swing first,” Spitler said. “Carson did that for us with that big return.”
Centerburg (1-1) showed life throughout the second and third quarters, but struggled to put up points. The team threw three interceptions in the first half that ended potential scoring drives.
“When you come out and you turn the ball over, and you have a lot of penalties, you shoot yourselves in the foot,” Centerburg coach Andy Colella said. “You can’t beat good football teams doing that. We still have to learn how to beat a quality football team.”
Despite the turnovers, the Trojans scored on a run by Donnell Marshall, capping a nine-play, 67-yard drive in the second quarter to cut the deficit in half.
Trailing by three touchdowns in the third, Centerburg drove to the Lucas 9 but ended up out of field goal range thanks to a series of penalties. On their next drive, the Trojans scored on a touchdown pass from Jack Gregory to a diving Marshall in the corner of the endzone.
Hauger caught two long touchdown passes from quarterback Logan Niswander late in the second quarter – from 75 and 48 yards – to give the Cubs a 26-7 halftime lead. Hauger added a third touchdown catch (his fourth score overall Friday) early in the fourth on a five-yard slant route. Those three touchdowns were Hauger’s only catches of the game.
“When you give Logan lots of time, he’s a tremendous ballplayer,” Spitzer said.
Grant Barrett scored on a six-yard run to wrap up the scoring for Lucas.
Centerburg fared well against Lucas’ heavier offensive and defensive lines. The Trojans held the Cubs to 120 rushing yards through the first three quarters.
“We wanted to stop their run, but they beat us through the air,” Colella said. “It’s what you want to force them to do. But, at the same time, you have to be able to capitalize on that. We didn’t capitalize on it.”
Centerburg’s passing game, however, stumbled. John Sheasby went 5 of 13 for 22 yards. He was replaced in the second half by Gregory, who went 4 for 14 for 51 yards.
Marshall finished with 95 yards on 16 carries, as well as 18 yards on four catches.