By Ryan Jones
MINERAL RIDGE — Columbiana’s white uniforms were soiled and Coach Bob Spaite’s boots were caked in mud.
In other words, the conditions were perfect for Columbiana’s punishing run game.
The Clippers plowed their way for 339 yards on 46 carries Friday en route to a 33-27 triumph over Mineral Ridge in an Inter-Tri County League Tier One contest at Joe Lane Sports Complex.
Columbiana (6-2) came into the game in second place of the Division VI Region 23 computer ratings.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape to make the playoffs, but we’d have to win out to have a shot at getting a home game,” Spaite said. “And that’s something we want to do because we don’t want to travel to the Columbus area to play.”
With the score tied at 14 at intermission, Columbiana’s Briton Stengia returned the opening kickoff of the second half to the Mineral Ridge 27 yard line.
On the next play, Jon Ritchey scored on a dazzling 27-yard run to give the Clippers a 20-14 lead.
After Mineral Ridge’s Dan Skiba tied the game with a 20-yard TD run, Columbiana responded with a 65-yard drive capped off by a 40-yard touchdown pass from Austin Barbato to Bryan Fry.
The Clippers increased their lead to 33-20 on their first possession of the fourth quarter when Jeff Davidson rumbled in from 12 yards.
Davidson, who led all rushers with 26 carries and 129 yards, benefitted from running behind the Clippers’ bruising line.
“We have two or three linemen who are getting some pretty serious looks from [Mid-American Conference] teams,” Spaite said. “Center Michael McMaster is a three-year starter who has been first-team ITCL the past two years.
“Matt Douglas is around 270 pounds and Rex Smith is 315 pounds and one of the strongest players we’ve ever had.”
Spaite said although his team lacks an elite running back, the Clippers are blessed with five to six guys who are workhorses.
“Jon Ritchey [107 yards rushing] can make people miss; he has some scat to him like he showed on that touchdown run,” Spaite said. “The rest of our backs are just tough guys.
“Jeff Davidson has taken over for Nick Roncone, who tore his ACL against Crestview,” Spaite said. “Jeff’s been a warrior for us; he doesn’t get much rest and he grinds out the tough yards.”
The Rams cut the lead to 33-27 with 4:48 left in the fourth, when quarterback Jesse Garland connected with Kyle Butson from 45 yards out. However, the Clippers churned out four consecutive first downs on their next possession to run out the clock.
Mineral Ridge (4-4) coach Joe Stevens said he thought tackling was the difference.
“Our tackling jumps out for me; it wasn’t our best,” he said. “I thought Jesse [Garland] played well and we put up 27 points, which should have been good enough to win.
“Columbiana outweighed us up front so we needed to play fast. Some of our line slants and stunts — our overall quickness advantage — were neutralized by the field conditions.”
Dan Skiba ran five times for 86 yards, caught three passes for 66 and scored two touchdowns. Kyle Skiba had 65 yards rushing, 50 of which came on a first-quarter TD run. Garland went 5-of-13 for 119 yards passing.
Barbato totaled 67 yards through the air and 80 on the ground for Columbiana.