COLUMBUS —It has been a great season for the Wayne Warriors who for the second season in a row has claimed the Division I state runner-up title, marking the fourth runner-up finish in Wayne history, falling to St. Ignatius in 1999 and to Lakewood St. Edward in 2010, 2014 and 2015.
The Warriors put together another stellar season, becoming the third team in school history to record a perfect 10-0 regular season. The previous two squads that had a perfect 10-0 regular season in 1987 and 1989 lost in their first round playoff games, so this team put together a string of firsts for an undefeated regular season team- with a first round 56-14 post-season victory against Reynoldsburg, followed by a 52-21 victory against Springboro, a 20-6 victory against Hilliard Davidson and a 28-21 victory against Colerain, thus becoming the first team in Wayne history to go 11-0, 12-0, 13-0 and 14-0.
Coach Jay Minton said this was a history making team as no Wayne football team had every won 14 games.
“Every week that they continued that journey, they were making history,” said Minton on Monday. “The only thing I asked for was just give us everything you’ve got. Don’t bring anything off of that field with you. Leave it all out there and they did…It was a team effort…They’ll go down in the history of Wayne football as one of the best.”
In the state final against Lakewood St. Edward, the Warriors remained in striking distance much of the game, trailing 17-7 at halftime and 24-14 after three quarters. But with 10:28 remaining in the fourth quarter, St. Edward took a 31-14 advantage and appeared to have all of the momentum going in their direction. During the next several minutes, the stadium announcer began to talk about the state trophy presentation following the game and it appeared to be a foregone conlusion that St. Edward and their fans would be celebrating as Wayne fans began to file out of Ohio Stadium.
The Warriors continued to fight gaining positive yardage and appeared to be a step from breaking open a long gain. Wayne quarterback Messiah DeWeaver connected on a 70-yard TD pass to L’Christian Smith with 7:15 left on the clock.
The fourth quarter excitement continued to build as Tobias Gilliam recovered the onside kick and DeWeaver hit Matt Wilcox on a 21-yard TD pass to trim the St. Edward lead to 31-28 with 5:17 left in the season.
What transpired next sent Wayne fans dancing in the aisles as Richard Carpenter intercepted a pass and returned the ball to the St. Edward 4-yard line, later setting up a Matt Wilcox 1-yard dive into the end-zone with 3:47 remaining in the fourth quarter to put Wayne up 35-31.
Anybody who left the stadium early in the fourth quarter missed probably the five most memorable minutes of any state final championship game imaginable. No doubt, players will be rehearsing and replaying those glorious minutes in their memory. However, St. Edward came back with heroics of their own, marching down field to retake a 38-35 lead with 1:19 left. This was followed by an on-side kick that St. Edward recovered and by a 51-yard touchdown run with 1:07 left to claim a 45-35 victory.
Yes, the Warriors will whave to endure another off-season with perhaps a bitter taste in their mouths concerning the way this game ended. However, the members of this team are “winners” in every sense of the word as demonstrated by their fourth quarter comeback attempt.
Minton said he tells his teams that losers will quit and quit trying to overcome that barrier while winners will continue until they succeed.
“Our kids are winners — there’s no doubt about it,” said Minton. “As disappointed as we are right now, I’ve got to classify our kids as winners.”
Senior running back Daryl McCleskey, who scored a touchdown against St. Edward, talked about the state experience.
“It felt great, it felt big — it was a big game to make a big play like that,” said McCleskey.
McCleskey said it was a “blessing” and “amazing” to play in the state final.
“It’s a blessing from God to have the opportunity to play in the state championship in Division I,” he said.
McCleskey said the team accomplished a lot this season and had a “great season” and said it was “very exciting.”
In the CBS MaxPreps Top 150 Computer Football Ratings for Dec. 6, St. Edward was ranked fourth while Wayne was ranked eighth in this national ranking. Centennial, of Coronna, Calif. was top ranked in this national assessment.
“What a great thing for our community and our school —just to have our school out there, ” said Minton of the national ranking this year, following the national rankings achieved by the Wayne basketball team last year. “….When you start to get national exposure like that, I just think it bodes well for our community — people want to come to our community and live…that might attract some young families who want to be a part of that.
“Again, people don’t realize what we have here — we have a great staff, teaching staff. If we had time, I could tell you all the things that I’ve seen teachers go out of their way to do to help kids and help them succeed academically and as a person. It’s great to get that exposure that people can see on the outside that success is really happening here, not just on the athletic fields, but all over.”
Minton was asked what would stand out to him about this season.
“The thing that will stand out to me always is the players,” he said. “The way that I saw them develop and the way that the chemistry came together and because you don’t get to the places that we’ve been able to go the last two years without great chemistry within your group and great players and just great young people that really wanted to learn and grow.”
Reach Greg Smart at 937-684-8088 or on Twitter @HH_Courier.com