Updated Sun, Nov 11, 2012 5:23 pm
Saturday evening at Hamilton Township High School saw two well-balanced southern Ohio football teams going at it in the Division III, Region 12 semifinal. The No. 3 seeded Athens Bulldogs pulled out a thrilling 36-35 victory over the No. 7 seed Springfield Shawnee Braves.
The Bulldogs, averaging upwards of 55 points per game thus far this season, brought their high-powered offense up against a battle-tested Central Buckeye Conference foe in Shawnee, who made it all the way to the Division III state championship game last season. Shawnee had made five previous state playoff appearances while Athens was looking to win their second playoff game this postseason, as well as in school history.
There was no shortage of offense early on as Athens mowed through the Shawnee defense on their first drive of 67 yards that culminated in a 14-yard touchdown pass to Tyler McIntosh. A botched PAT left the score at 6-0.
Shawnee would answer right back with a touchdown of their own by Alex McCrory on a 20-yard strike from Tyler Bostick on fourth and eight, one of four times on the night that Shawnee would convert on fourth
An interception by McCrory on Athens’ next drive would be taken back all the way to the two yard line. McCrory would then plunge in on the next play to put Shawnee up 14-8.
The defense would stiffen for a few drives, and Jed Debruin would intercept a pass for Athens. On the very next play, Athens would convert on the short field by way of a pass to Ryan Leuhrman who would also score the two-point conversion to knot the score at 14.
The teams would trade a few scores before the half, with Joey Burrow scoring on a 43-yard scamper with about three minutes remaining, and would fake the extra point and convert to head into the half up 22-21 in what would turn out to be a critical moment in the game.
Both teams came out in the second half looking better on defense. Shawnee and Athens traded punts before Shawnee put together a 12-play drive that finished with an 11-yard pass from Bostick to Talley to put the Braves up over the Bulldogs by a score of 28-22.
Burrow would be intercepted on the next Athens drive by Haygan Blain, which would lead a few plays later to a four-yard J.D. Davis touchdown.
Athens quarterback and player of the year finalist Joey Burrow had his struggles with two interceptions but ultimately did what a quarterback is supposed to do, lead his team on two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. A 35-22 lead was never safe with the Athens offense still having nearly a full quarter of time remaining.
Burrow would throw for 279 yards on 23-of-42 attempts and three touchdowns through the air. Burrow also used his feet, racking up 100 yards on 24 carries, including one touchdown on the ground.
Burrow would then orchestrate a 65-yard drive that ended on a six-yard pass to Adam Leuhrman to make it 35-29. The Athens defense would then hold strong and force a Shawnee punt.
On the next Bulldogs possession, Athens would start on their own 18. Several Joey Burrow runs and completions later, Athens would find themselves in a second-and-11 situation on the 43-yard line. Sophomore Running Back Trae Williams would take the ball to the left, break a few tackles, tip toe down the Athens sideline, and make his way all the way down to the one-yard line where he would then punch it in on the very next play to put the Bulldogs up by what would be the final score of 36-35.
Shawnee would make one last attempt, starting with solid field position at their own 48. They would move the ball well before Bostick was intercepted by Skylar Schwarzel on a toss up to the one-yard line. From there, Athens would gain a few first downs and run out the clock, much to the joy of the hundreds of Bulldog fans who were in attendance.
On the night, Athens would outgain Shawnee 445 to 327 when it came to total yards.
Shawnee would have a few bright spots with Taylor Bostick’s 13-of-24 passing for 111 yards, as well as Alex McCrory’s 24 rushes for 87 yards, two rushing touchdowns, a receiving touchdown, and an interception.
Shawnee’s season comes to a close, but the Athens Bulldogs live to see another day as they are set to face off against Thurgood Marshall of Dayton in the Division III Region 12 Final next week.