LEETONIA — After his team worked overtime last week to pull out a one-point win over Steubenville Catholic Central, Columbiana coach Bob Spaite was concerned about possible fatigue against rival Leetonia on Friday night.
He can rest easy now.
The Clippers’ massive offensive line overpowered the smaller Bears, as Columbiana muscled its way to 323 yards rushing and dominated the time of possession en route to a 21-7 victory.
Despite running 69 plays to Leetonia’s 28, Columbiana (2-0) didn’t put the contest out of reach until a 1-yard touchdown from Jeff Davidson with 1:49 left.
Leetonia (1-1) had stopped the Clippers on fourth-and-goal on the 1 a play earlier, but were flagged for a face mask penalty to give Columbiana another opportunity.
“We knew we didn’t match up with them size-wise on the lines, but the kids played hard and kept them out of the end zone with a few goal line stands,” said Leetonia coach Matt Altomare. “But we gave them an extra down there at the end and they took advantage. It was a physical game and we just couldn’t sustain any drives and keep the ball out of their hands.”
The Clippers’ running attack was potent and by committee, as three backs each rushed for over 50 yards. Quarterback Austin Barbato led the way with 122 yards and Nick Roncone added 93 yards, while Davidson rushed for 56.
Leetonia got off to a rousing start, scoring on the game’s third play with a little bit of trickery. Receiver Cody Stokes grabbed a reverse handoff and tossed the ball 49 yards to Seth McNally for a Bears touchdown less than two minutes into the contest.
“I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” said Columbiana coach Bob Spaite. “Our kids didn’t even know where the ball was. You have to give them credit for jumping on us early, just like they always do. And we knew they’d never quit either.”
Aside from that one play, the Clippers dominated. Columbiana rallied from the 7-0 deficit with a pair of rushing touchdowns in the first quarter — one by Davidson and another by Barbato — to seize a 14-7 advantage at halftime.
It could have been much worse for Leetonia. Columbiana drove inside the red zone twice more in the second quarter, but failed to score.
“We left some points out there,” said Spaite. “We have some youth and inexperience, but our offensive line has really been coming together and we have running backs that run hard. Defensively, we made some adjustments and kept them from moving the ball.”
Columbiana’s size and strength took its toll all night, as several Leetonia players suffered injuries. The Bears lost center/nose tackle Seth Inboden in the first half to a knee injury. Running back A.J. Bailey went down several times and finally came out of the game with what is believed to be a stinger.
“This is always a physical game,” said Altomare. “When you lose one guy, you lose two starters, so that puts you at an advantage. But we just didn’t make plays tonight and that was the biggest difference, not the injuries.”