PIQUA, OH – Two of the top ten teams in the final Associated Press rankings in Division 3 put on a contest for ages Saturday night Piqua for the right to go to the State Semifinals. Fans in attendance at Alexander Stadium were treated to a tightly contested game that in the end was won by the six time defending region champion Trotwood Madison Rams 34-27 over St. Marys.
St. Marys fired the first shot across their opponents bow in the opening stanza as they capped off a 70 yard drive when the Western Buckeye League’s Back of the Year Eric Spicer jaunted in from 27 yards out to give his team their first lead at 7-0 following a successful extra point by Gabe Vandever.
Having not trailed but just a few times during the season the Trotwood offense went back to work on their ensuing drive and marched 75 yards into the Rider endzone when Junior tailback Raveion Hargrove scored on a 16 yard run from scrimmage. Trotwood would look to throw the football on their two point conversion attempt but failed to connect as Spicer knocked away the pass in the front corner of the endzone to keep his team ahead 7-6.
Despite QB Dustin Howell hooking up with Sophomore back Sean Perry for a 40 yard gain on their next possession to put them inside Rams territory the Roughriders were unable to put points on the board once the football was returned to them as Julius Fisher was hit hard and fumbled the football at the Rams 13 and saw his opposition recover the ball to start their next drive.
One play, 87 yards, 17 seconds is what Trotwood needed on their next possession to put points on the board and pull ahead 14-7 because the All-Ohio back in Hargrove blitzed down the left sideline and into the endzone for a touchdown.
Behind superb blocking from the offensive line of four Seniors (Garrett Lauth, Jonathan Peterson, Joey Morlino, Aaron McGraw) and a Junior (Tyler Miller), the Roughriders evened the score at 14-14 as Spicer rushed for his 28th career touchdown just seconds into the second quarter.
Trotwood Madison QB Markell Stephens-Peppers sixteenth touchdown pass of the season, a 34 yard scoring strike just past the hands of the Riders secondary to Caleb Johnson gave the Rams a 20-14 advantage. Stephens-Peppers attempted to run in the two point conversion but was stopped by the St. Marys defensive line before he could do so.
Starting with 9:01 and at their own 20 yard line the Roughriders moved the football inside the Trotwood 20 but were forced to settle for a 23 yard Gabe Vandever field goal that cut the Rams lead to 20-17 a minute before the halftime break. In an attempt to ice Vandever, Trotwood head coach and former 11 year NFL veteran WR Jeff Graham took all three of his timeouts in succession whenever the Riders Sophomore kicker lined up to attempt his kicks.
Just as they had done to end the first half the Roughriders milked over seven minutes off the clock to open the second hald and utilized a 1 yard Julius Fisher touchdown burst to finish off a 15 play, 64 yard drive and go ahead of Trotwood 24-20.
On the second play of the next offensive drive for the Rams they were forced to hold their collective breath as they lost Hargrove to an apparent left leg injury when he was tackled for no gain by many members of the Rider defense. Four plays after the injury the Rams found themselves unable to connect on another two point conversion following a touchdown as backup tailback William McDaniel sliced his way 32 yards through the St. Marys defense to put his team back on top 26-24 with 2:55 to go in the third.
Another 23 yard field goal for St. Marys gave the Roughriders back the lead and came at the end of a long drive that saw the offense stopped on a third down play and made the score 27-26 in the WBL Champions favor with 10:00 remaining in the contest.
McDaniel would score once more in the game as with 6:54 to go he thundered in from two yards out to push the Rams advantage to 32-27. Stephens-Peppers connection on the two point pass conversion attempt was right on target to Caleb Johnson and made it 34-27 in their squads favor.
With 6:49 and all three timeouts the Roughriders began what would turn out to be their final drive of the game at their own 38. Behind big runs from Sean Perry, Dustin Howell, Fisher, and Spicer the Riders quickly made their way across the midfield stripe and into Trotwood territory.
Near the three minute mark the Riders were forced to make a decision on what play to run on fourth down and went with a pass to Sean Perry on the back side. Despite having a majority of the players chasing Howell on the opposite side of the field the Rams were able to make a stop on Perry before he could get a full head of steam and force a turnover on downs to end the St. Marys opportunity to put a score on the board.
Trotwood (11-2) would pick up a pair of first downs on their ensuing possession and run out the remaining 3:08 left in the contest to preserve the victory, their 7th consecutive trip to the State Semifinals. The Rams will now match up with unbeaten Toledo Central Catholic next Saturday night as TCC defeated Lexington by a 19-0 margin to set up a rematch from last season that was won by TCC 21-13.
St. Marys sees their first trip to the Regional Finals come to an end at 11-2 and as three way champions in the WBL. The Riders will say goodbye to 21 Seniors, a group that were 0-10 in their Freshman year before Coach Doug Frye returned to lead the program to 22 wins in three seasons at the helm and help bring the program back from the bottom of the league where they had been with him absent.
Raveion Hargrove led Trotwood in rushing as he rushed for 212 yards for the third time in the last four games. Stephens-Peppers connected on 8/11 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown pass to lead the air attack for the Rams. Altogether Trotwood accumulated 441 yards on 47 offensive plays from scrimmage.
The Riders were led offensively by Julius Fisher’s 139 yards rushing and 1 touchdown on 28 carries while classmate Eric Spicer finished just behind him with 134 yards on 18 rushes and a pair of touchdowns. Through the air the Roughriders finished 4/6 for 59 yards and no touchdowns and overall picked up 416 yards on 64 plays.