DAYTON — Wayne’s defense provided the needed spark to outlast Hilliard Davidson 20-6 in the third round of the Ohio High School Playoffs at Welcome Stadium in Dayton Saturday night.
It was a battle in the trenches as Hilliard Davidson came into town with their power option offense that only passed the ball a total of three times the entire game. It was all about the run as Hilliard Davidson methodically moved the ball down the field limiting Wayne to just three possessions and a field goal at the half.
Hilliard Davidson dominated the time of possession 28:29 to 19:31 and looked to force Wayne’s offense totally out of their game. Wayne High School All-American quarterback Messiah DeWeaver, who passed for over 300 yards in each of the previous two games, was held to just 41 yards passing, completing four passes on eight attempts.
Late in the second quarter, Wayne drove down to the 2-yard-line, but on a third-and-goal, was thrown for a huge loss as the Hilliard defense forced Wayne to settle for a field goal attempt. Nate Strong delivered, as he has done all year, with a 30-yard field goal with 6:26 left in the second quarter to give Wayne the lead 3-0.
On the ensuing kick-off, Jacob Ross of Hilliard Davidson returned the ball 63 yards to the Wayne 30-yard line. But the Wayne defense halted the Hilliard Davidson red-zone threat, forcing a Robert LeFevre 41-yard field goal with 4:17 to go in the second quarter to tie the game 3-3.
The second half started out looking much like the first as both defenses refused to give up any ground. Wayne, on their next possession, took advantage of good field position to move the ball into the red zone, but again had to settle for a field goal attempt. Nate Strong hit the 25-yard field goal with 4:23 left in the third quarter to put Wayne out in front 6-3.
The Wayne defense forced another punt giving the ball back into Hilliard Davidson’s hands. This time it was the Wayne offense fans are accustomed to seeing, as they sliced and diced their way into Hilliard Davidson territory, culminating in a Daryl McCleskey scamper for a 21 yard touchdown with 40-seconds left in the third quarter to extend Wayne’s lead to 13-3.
“Coach didn’t have to say much, “said Wayne Captain Matt Wilcox concerning the second-half turn around. “It was a player thing. The seniors stepped up; they didn’t want this to be their last game. We played their ball the first half, but we did what we were supposed to do in the second half.”
I just challenged them to play their game, “said Coach Jay Minton. “I challenged them to play Wayne football instead of Davidson football. We didn’t panic, our goal was to get ahead, and once we went up 13-3 it changed their game. It’s what we had to do all along, but it took the second half to do it.”
To start the fourth quarter, it was Hilliard Davidson’s turn to throw some punches as they moved within striking distance deep into Wayne territory. The Wayne defense again showed its teeth as Alex Reigelsperger, Alex Otto and Mazon Walker delivered key red-zone stops to force Hilliard Davidson to again settle for a field goal with 6:02 remaining in the game to cut the lead to 13-6.
With hopes still very much alive and the ball back into Hilliard Davidson’s hands, the Wayne defense again shined as Mazon Walker got a key sack and Mikal Toliver a fumble recovery to take over the ball at the 5-yard line. Fred Pitts took it from there, running in for the score to seal the victory with just 1:39 left in the game, extending Wayne’s lead to 20-6.
Hilliard Davidson got the ball once more in the game, but their hopes were spoiled again as Otto forced a fumble that was recovered by senior Richard Carpenter. That final recovery provided the blanket to a cold and windy night to send Wayne to the final four of the Ohio High School Div. 1 State Playoffs and provided some reprieve to a 37-7 third round loss to Hilliard Davidson in 2013.
“We had to play our game, “said Coach Minton. “It was two different styles of football, the first half we played their style, we challenged our kids to play our football in the second half and our guys responded very well.”
“It feels great to get this win and be in the final four, “said Carpenter. “We knew they were going to run the ball and that we had to stay ready at all times, we accomplished that tonight.”
“It’s a great feeling, “said Wilcox. “We are making history for our school, two years ago Hilliard Davidson put us out of the same round, and it feels great to come out victorious.”
Third-seeded Wayne (13-0) will face top-seeded Colerain (12-1) at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 28, at Mason Dwire Field at Atrium Stadium in the regional final which also serves as the state final.
Reach Stephen Granata by contacting Greg Smart at 937-684-8088 or on Twitter @HH_Courier.com.