COLUMBUS, Ohio – In what will surely be remembered as one of the greatest playoff runs of all time, St. Xavier (Cincinnati) constructed its fourth consecutive come-from-behind performance to beat No. 25 St. Ignatius (Cleveland), 27-20, in double overtime Friday night in the Division I state championship to become the first 5-loss team in Ohio High School Athletic Association history to win a state title.
St. X did it against a team that beat the Bombers on Oct. 22 (31-14) and entered Friday’s game with an 11-1 record all-time in the state finals.
St. X (10-5) needed to win three overtime games this postseason and a fourth quarter comeback in regulation to beat Pickerington Central last week to earn the third championship in school history (2005, 2007).
“You couldn’t script a better state championship story line, game and all … it’s as good as it gets,” said St. Xavier senior safety Carl Grimm, who had an interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery in addition to some big-time tackles. “This will be something I tell my kids and my grand kids about, and it will go on forever until I’m 80 and they get sick of it.
“It’s an indescribable feeling. I wouldn’t leave Bomber football any other way – being at the top. It’s sad I’ll never play a game with this team again, but you couldn’t go out a better way.”
With 6:49 left in the game, St. Ignatius, starting at its own 5-yard line, lost a fumble when Jake Buerkle’s helmet fit right on the football. It squirted into the end zone and Blake Bacevich landed on it like a life raft to give the Bombers their first lead of the game, 17-10.
The Wildcats answered with a 14-play, 80-yard drive and a 17-yard touchdown pass on fourth down from Patrick Ryan to Michael Drobnick with 1:11 left in regulation to force overtime.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” said Grimm. “I can’t even put it into words right now what this means. I don’t think anybody coming into the Louisville St. X game, thought a 4-5 team tied at halftime would even be in the playoffs. Now we’re here and it just speaks to the resilience of this team. What we’ve been through – this never-quit, play-hard attitude.”
St. Xavier senior Kevin Rockwood answered with a 28-yarder that made it 20-20 and forced another extra frame.
Rockwood and Trickett set a new state record for combined field goals in a game (four) and each tied an individual state record with two field goals.
The Bombers’ offense stayed on the field to start the second overtime and Clifford, a Penn State commit who left the game twice with injuries only to return, found Andrew Wittrock for a 7-yard touchdown pass to put St. X on top, 27-20.
On St. Ignatius’ final possession, the Wildcats needed to convert fourth-and-goal from the 10-yard line, but the pass was incomplete and St. Xavier’s sideline flooded onto the field with fists in the air like a dam had just given way.
Players hug after St. Xavier pulls off a double-overtime victory (Photo: Kareem Elgazzar, Cincinnati Enquirer)
St. Xavier coach Steve Specht said what he’ll remember most about this team is how they battled all year long.
“How they dealt with adversity,” said Specht. “How they never quit. How they endured my wrath over and over. Just the frustration of adversity. They grinded. These kids … blue collar, whatever happens … Sean (Clifford) goes down, Chase (Wolf) steps up. Chase goes down, Sean comes back.
“It was just a revolving door all year long of different weird things. These kids just weathered the storm, battled and they’re state champions. This is a statement victory, a statement championship from the standpoint that you preach to the kids all the time the importance of staying the course and not giving up and to battle and fight regardless of the odds.
“And guess what? We did it. Now you can point to it and you can say to the young kids, ‘This is what can happen.’ It’s not lip service anymore. It’s fact.”
It was just the second double overtime game in OHSAA playoff history. The only other came in 2006 between Mentor and Hilliard Davidson.
Clifford rushed 20 times but only grossed 12 yards because St. Ignatius broke a state record with nine sacks. Clifford was 10 of 25 passing for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this sore after a game in my life,” said Clifford. “This is definitely the worst one.”
Specht jumped in, “It’s a good sore, though, right?”
“Yeah, it’s a really good sore,” smiled Clifford.
Before the Bombers could even blink or catch their breath after the game’s opening kickoff, St. Ignatius (13-2) took a 10-0 lead with 6:33 left in the first quarter and held onto that lead at halftime.
After a quick three-and-out by St. Xavier’s offense, punter Josh Glaser’s punt was blocked by St. Ignatius senior defensive end Michael Chime who followed the football into the end zone and pounced on it for a quick 7-0 lead just 57 seconds into the game.
After another St. Xavier punt on its second possession, St. Ignatius’ offense went to work – starting at midfield – and tacked on a 45-yard field goal from Matthew Trickett to make it 10-0.
St. Xavier only picked up three first downs in the first half and they punted on all seven first half possessions.
Unable to corral any momentum in the first two quarters, St. X sprinted out of the locker room and strangled the momentum right out of St. Ignatius.
On the third play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Grimm forced and recovered a fumble in St. Ignatius territory to set up a 31-yard field goal by Rockwood that made it 10-3.
After a quick three-and-out forced by St. X’s defense, junior Cameron Specht returned a punt 20 yards to the Ignatius 47, and Clifford hit Nicholas Moeller for a 32-yard gain, followed by a 22-yard strike to Wittrock that tied the game 10-10 with 5:12 left in the third quarter.
It was as if the Bombers waited for their backs to be against the wall, when suddenly their feet found the gas pedal and away they went into the history books and a memory that not even time can tarnish.
“It’s mythical in some respects,” said Specht. “As an old English major … that these kids kept taking the rages of the gods week after week after week, but they stayed the course and they battled through and I guess today we founded Rome.”