By Ryan Jones
After the 14-7 victory, Columbiana’s coach called Struthers a strong 0-3 team.
COLUMBIANA — Moments after holding off a stubborn Struthers squad, Columbiana coach Bob Spaite said he didn’t want to sound stupid calling the Wildcats one of the best 0-3 teams he’s ever seen.
Forget stupid — almost anyone who attended the Clippers 14-7 victory over the Wildcats would have agreed.
“That’s a very physical football team,” Spaite said. “They played at a high level all night. We’re beat up and exhausted.”
Up 14-7 in the second half, Columbiana’s defense was tested against Struthers smashmouth offense.
In the third quarter, Struthers drove the ball 47 yards to the Clippers 23 yard line, but Columbiana held quarterback Tony Valiquette to a five-yard gain on fourth-and-eight to force a turnover on downs.
On the Wildcats’ next possession, Columbiana stuffed tailback Joe Balog for a two-yard loss on a fourth-and-three play from their 30yard line at the 5:47 mark of the fourth quarter.
Spaite said his team might have been praying for a spread attack but knew what was coming on fourth down.
“That’s what [Struthers] does,” the Clippers coach said. “They pound it right at you. Joe Balog is a warrior; he singlehandedly almost willed his team to victory.
“Believe me, we would have loved for them to spread it out and throw the ball,” Spaite said. “We tried to get them to do that, but we couldn’t get a big enough lead. Give Coach [Dallas] Saunders credit for saying, ‘we’re bigger and stronger than you, here we come.’ ”
Balog, who bruised his way to 150 yards on 23 carries, scored Struthers’ only touchdown when he rumbled in from 12 yards away to give the Wildcats a 7-0 first quarter lead.
The Wildcats got one last chance to tie the game after Zach DiVencenzo blocked Josh Harold’s punt out of bounds at Columbiana’s 25yard line.
However, the Clippers stout defense swarmed Balog on a fourth-and-two carry from the 17-yard line to seal the victory.
“I was pretty upset about the punt block,” Spaite said.
“I’ve been here 15 years and I think that is the first time another team has blocked one of our punts.”
Saunders said coming up short on plays, drives and quarters is what has plagued his team this year.
“We’ve got to find a way to make good things happen,” Saunders said. “I thought we did that at first tonight. We got out to a good start with a 7-0 lead. But in the second half, we were not able to get it in the end zone. We failed to finish our drives.”
Nick Roncone’s 65-yard touchdown reception from Jon Ritchey gave the Clippers a 14-7 lead with just more than a minute remaining before halftime.
Spaite said the touchdown pass showcased Ritchey’s talents.
“He kind of broke out on that play and showed what he can do,” Spaite said.
Ritchey, who went 5-of-9 for 109 yards passing, tied the contest at seven when he took a quarterback keeper eight yards for a score.
Brian Warchol led the Clippers with 75 yards rushing on 15 attempts while Roncone caught two passes for 81 yards.