DAYTON, Ohio - It took a while but once the Colerain train picked up some steam it wore down Pickerington Central for a 38-20 win in the Division I Region 2 football semifinals Saturday night.
After the Cardinals fell behind 10-0, an interception by senior Tegray Scales late in the second quarter swung the momentum.
“You talk about the play of the game and that was it,” Colerain coach Tom Bolden said.
The Cardinals (12-0) play Moeller (11-1) for the regional championship next Saturday.
Colerain looked sluggish for the majority of the first half. It started on the game’s first drive when Pickerington Central (8-3) marched 79 yards. Quarterback Colby Simkins had three key completions and Isaiah Richmond finished off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown less than four minutes into the contest.
That marked the first time that Colerain had trailed by more than three points all season and only the third time that they had been down in the first half.
The Cardinals fumbled on their first possession, leaving their fans who traveled north to Welcome Stadium dumbfounded.
After the teams wasted possessions, Richmond went at it again, busting off a 43-yard run to the Colerain 28 on the final play of a miserable first quarter for the Cardinals.
Richmond would finish the night with 92 yards on 10 carries.
The Pickerington Central drive stalled, but sophomore kicker Devon McMillin hit a 44-yard field goal with the wind at his back to make it 10-0 Tigers with 10:02 left in the second quarter.
The Cardinals now had to dig themselves out of their first double-digit hole of the season.
On the next Colerain drive, penalties reared their ugly head.
The Cardinals had six points taken off the board after DeTuan Smith-Moore ran it in from 11 yards out when they were called for holding. On the next play, a block in the back penalty moved the red and white from second-and-goal to the Central 35-yard line.
Eventually Colerain got a 32-yard field goal by Zach Gehner to cut the Pickerington Central lead to 10-3 with 3:20 left before intermission.
That's when Scales' pick changed everything. He returned the ball 20 yards to the Pickerington Central 29-yard line.
A few plays later quarterback Kelvin Cook found DeShaunte Jones for a 18-yard touchdown pass to tie it 10-10 with 1:22 left.
But it took another big defensive play by Jalen Christian to keep momentum on Colerain's side.
Pickerington Central moved right down field and got into scoring position. But Christian picked off Simpkins in the end zone. Colerain ran out the time and settled for a halftime deadlock.
Smith-Moore was starting to heat up with 112 yards on 18 carries.
After Colerain got the ball to start the second half, Cook quickly gave his team a 17-10 lead with a 54-yard burst less than a minute and a half into the third quarter. The senior would end the evening with 118 yards on 15 carries and completed all three of his passes for another 48 yards.
The feisty Tigers came right back and marched into field goal position once more. McMillin, with the wind in his favor, connected on his second 44-yard field goal to pull his team back to 17-13 with 6:31 left in the quarter.
Then Smith-Moore stole the show.
The senior willed his way to the game’s next two touchdowns and finished the evening with 226 yards on 30 totes, including seven runs of 10 or more yards from the time the Cardinals first got on the board until his final romp into the end zone.
Pickerington Central was all but gassed out by then.
It is deja’ vu for Colerain, who will be undefeated and facing Moeller in round three of the playoffs for a second straight year next Saturday. Last year the Cardinals fell to Big Moe 24-21 and watched the Crusaders bring home the Division I state title.