La Salle’s underdog role lasted for a half Friday night in a consistent rain at Piqua in a Division II state semifinal.
For the first time this postseason, La Salle (12-2) needed a definitive second half to come back and beat Perrysburg (13-1) 49-28 to win its ninth consecutive playoff game and book a return trip to the state final next weekend against Massillon Perry (12-2). La Salle outscored Perrysburg 35-7 in the second half to pull away from the Yellow Jackets.
#OHSAA FOOTBALL: Div. II championship – Massillon Perry vs. Cincinnati La Salle will be FRIDAY at 8 PM at Ohio Stadium
— OHSAA Sports (@OHSAASports) November 28, 2015
It was the defense that jump-started La Salle’s come-from-behind win, which featured a 21-0 La Salle edge in the third quarter alone. With his team trailing 21-14 following intermission, La Salle junior two-way standout Jarell White returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown to tie the game 21-21 with 8:18 left in the third quarter.
“Right off the bat (in the second half), we set the tempo,” said first-year La Salle coach Jim Hilvert. “Defensively, turnovers, we start smacking people around, being physical on defense. We contained the quarterback. I’m so proud of the way our defense responded … we settled down, 35-7 in the second half, we were playing Lancer football. I’m proud of our guys.”
Two plays later, junior defensive back TreSean Smith, who finished with two interceptions, stepped in front of another Perrysburg pass and La Salle’s big offensive line led senior Nick Watson on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to give La Salle its first lead of the game 28-21 with 4:48 to play in the third quarter.
A three-and-out for Perrysburg, followed by two big plays from La Salle seniors Jeremy Larkin and Josh Gebing set Watson up for another rushing touchdown to give La Salle a 35-21 lead after three quarters.
Hilvert said he told his team at halftime, “We gotta go get it. Don’t wait around for anybody else. We gotta grab it and go take it.”
With 10:24 left in the game, Perrysburg senior quarterback Trevor Hafner scrambled for a 36-yard touchdown to cut into La Salle’s lead, 35-28.
The Lancers went to the ground and put Perrysburg away with a Larkin touchdown run to make it 42-28 with 3:31 left in the game. Larkin, who became the Greater Catholic League South’s all-time leading rusher in the game, added a 21-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. Larkin finished with 161 yards rushing on 16 carries with three touchdowns.
Larkin said the Lancers responded in the second half and began playing “like it was our last game.”
“It’s incredible,” said Larkin, who’s committed to UC. “To be in this position, to play 30 games within two years. I’m gonna go out there next week and leave it all on the line, make the most of our days and just enjoy the moment.”
Perrysburg, which finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the state’s final Associated Press state poll (La Salle was No. 4), got on the board first after a Watson interception on the Lancers’ first possession of the game. Senior running back Josh Haynes gave Perrysburg a 7-0 lead with a 2-yard touchdown run with 6:45 left in the first quarter.
A second straight three-and-out from La Salle’s offense, followed by a 90-yard scoring drive, capped by a 26-yard touchdown run by Hafner, that left the Lancers uncharacteristically trailing 14-0 with 2:39 left in the first quarter. It’s the largest deficit La Salle’s faced this postseason.
La Salle had problems slowing down the Yellow Jackets’ dual-threat attack offense in the first quarter. Hafner, who gave La Salle fits for nearly three quarters, finished with 149 rush yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns. Hafner was 17 of 27 for 193 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
“I think the first half we were a little uptight because they didn’t think that was gonna happen,” said Hilvert. “But, we didn’t flinch. At halftime they settled down, and kept plugging away.”
The two-touchdown deficit brought La Salle’s offense to life, which answered with a drive and a 5-yard touchdown run by Watson, who finished with three rushing touchdowns.
Perrysburg went to the air for its third score of the first half, a 10-yard pass from Hafner to Connor Meredith gave the Yellow Jackets a 21-7 lead with 6:52 left in the first half.
Christian Turner recovered a sneaky onside attempt and Jeremy Larkin got loose for a 26-yard touchdown run to make the score 21-14 with 5:15 before halftime.
La Salle squandered an opportunity just before the break. The Lancers were pinned at their own 1-yard line, 2:34 on the clock, and Josh Gebing caught a 62-yard pass to flip the field. La Salle had second-and-goal from Perrysburg’s 1-yard line, but a false start backed the Lancers up and senior Drue Chrisman’s 23-yard field goal attempt drifted right as time expired in the first half.
Next weekend in Ohio Stadium, the Lancers will play their 30th game in a two-season span in an effort to win consecutive state championships.
“It’s very, very exciting to be running for a state championship against great football in Ohio, some of the best football in the country,” said Hilvert. “To be able to play for a state championship, it’s tough to repeat. It’s tough to win. I’m proud of my coaching staff. One of our coaches lost his dad last night, and our staff did a great job preparing our guys. Our kids stayed with the plan and played their butts off.”
The OHSAA confirmed that La Salle will meet Massillon Perry on Friday at Ohio State at 8 p.m.
Larkin said next weekend’s state final is “gonna be very emotional, hopefully we can come away with a win.”
La Salle 0-14-21-14 – 49
Perrysburg 14-7-0-7 – 28
P – Haynes 2 run (Smith kick)
P – Hafner 26 run (Smith kick)
L – Watson 5 run (Chrisman kick)
P – Meredith 10 pass from Hafner (Smith kick)
L – Larkin 26 run (Chrisman kick)
L – J. White 39 interception return (Chrisman kick)
L – Watson 1 run (Chrisman kick)
L – Watson 8 run (Chrisman kick)
P – Hafner 34 run (Smith kick)
L – Larkin 4 run (Chrisman kick)
L – Larkin 21 run (Chrisman kick)
Records: L 12-2, P 13-1