HAMILTON, Ohio – The St. Xavier football team is going to the state Final Four.And as Bombers coach Steve Specht has reminded them all season, the group doesn’t always play smart, but they give a significant effort each game.
In the end, survive and advance is all that matters.
With the season hanging in the balance in the fourth quarter, the Bombers responded in the most opportune time by scoring twice in the final two minutes Friday night en route to a 35-28 overtime win over Sycamore in a Division I regional final at Hamilton High School.
“It’s every week they keep fighting and keep battling,” Specht said. “That’s two overtime wins in a row. After a while it takes its toll on my heart – that’s for sure.”
St. X (8-5), ranked No. 27 nationally by the MaxPreps computer rankings, will make its first state semifinals appearance since 2011 next week.
The Bombers play Pickerington Central (12-1) Nov. 25 in a location that will be announced later by the Ohio High School Athletic Association. St. X played Pickerington Central in the 2011 state Final Four.
Friday was the 12th time for St. X in the regional final. Next week will be the seventh time in the state semifinals. St. X is 5-1 in state semifinals, according to athletic director John Sullivan.
The Bombers will practice on Thanksgiving much to the delight of the players.
“I’m just happy that I get to practice and then go eat some turkey,” St. Xavier senior quarterback Sean Clifford. “That is always good.”
St. X had 421 yards of total offense but had just 14 passing yards after the first quarter. Clifford moved the ball effectively in the second half with his feet and his arm and put the Sycamore defense on its heels at times.
“He doesn’t quit,” Specht said. “He fights – he doesn’t always play smart. He will be the first one to tell you. Sean thinks he can make every play in the world. I love that about him. But, it also makes you pull your hair out. As hard these guys play, I’m awful proud of them.”
For Sycamore (8-5), the Aviators won’t soon forget their first regional final appearance in program history.
Senior running back Ra’Von Bonner had 35 carries for 210 yards and three touchdowns in the final game of his high school career. The Illinois commit also set a school-record for the longest run from scrimmage with a 99-yard touchdown with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“I am incredibly proud of the guys,” Sycamore coach Scott Dattilo said. “That’s what I told them afterward."
Sycamore led 21-7 after Bonner’s second touchdown run of the night with 2:28 left in the third quarter.
St. Xavier responded early in the fourth quarter when Jacob Buerkle scored on a 4-yard run to help close the gap to 21-14.
But, with the Aviators pinned to their own 1-yard line, Bonner responded with a 99-yard touchdown run.
Almost five minutes later, Clifford’s 9-yard touchdown run with 2:11 left in the fourth cut the deficit to 28-21. St. X recovered the onside kick.
Clifford then found junior Cameron Specht for a 34-yard touchdown pass along the far sideline to tie the game.
St. X had an opportunity again in the closing seconds of regulation but did not convert. Sycamore won the overtime toss and deferred. Clifford found Wittrock for the touchdown pass to go ahead 35-28.
The Bombers knocked down a pass in the end zone on fourth down for the Aviators to seal the win.
Sycamore, which started the season 2-4 including two overtime losses in the first two weeks, had plenty to be proud of during the season.
Senior quarterback Jake Borman, who was named an all-district selection earlier this week, threw for 192 yards and played tough the entire game.
Borman was the starting quarterback the past 34 games for Sycamore while Bonner was a starter for the past 33 games. Bonner finished with 80 career rushing touchdowns and will be placed on the OHSAA's all-time career rushing touchdowns list.
“I will remember their grit,” Dattilo said. “At 2-4 we could’ve easily packed the bags and we didn’t. We started winning and getting confidence.”
Friday was the first matchup between the schools since 2002 when St. X won 10-7 in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown.