DAYTON, Ohio - The Clinton-Massie Falcons are going back to the Division IV state championship for a second straight season after a stunning come-from-behind victory over the high-powered and previously unbeaten Kenton Wildcats Friday night.
Although they struggled early and Kenton threatened to break the game open, the defending champion Falcons showed the heart and perseverance that put them above all others at their level.
“We stuck to the game plan. Even when we were down two scores, we didn’t change one thing we were doing ... We didn’t panic,” said Clinton-Massie head coach Dan McSurley.
Helped by two Kenton turnovers, the Falcons scored two touchdowns in the final 10 minutes to pull out the one-point victory.
“They (Kenton) dug down deep; we just dug down a little deeper,” star running back Bayle Wolf said of his team’s performance.
Two plays into the contest, Chayse Wolf broke free for a 56-yard touchdown and Clinton-Massie (13-1) was ahead 7-0. That would be the only scoring for the Falcons until the fourth quarter as the Kenton defense made life rough. Clinton-Massie had three second-quarter drives that tallied 19 total yards.
Kenton (13-1) started with an eight play, 81-yard drive that took all of 2:02. The Wildcats, who always go for the two-point conversion, didn't get it. But that started a run of 20 unanswered points for Kenton.
The Kenton defense made a goal line stand as Clinton-Massie ate up the clock and pushed the game into the second quarter on the futile drive. The Wildcats then went 98 yards in 1:19 on their second drive with quarterback Grant Sherman throwing his second touchdown pass, this one to Luke Jackson culminating the masterpiece. The conversion failed again, but Kenton had taken the lead, 12-7.
By intermission Sherman had thrown for 247 yards and two scores. Receiver Justin Sawmiller had racked up 120 yards on four receptions. Sawmiller came into the game with more than 2,000 yards receiving. Sherman had more than 5,000 yards through the air and 60+ touchdowns. The Kenton defense had held the Falcons to just 90 yards of offense with three sacks, including two by Michigan commit Noah Furbush.
Kenton took the opening drive of the second half 79 yards in 1:36 to make the score 20-7. Sherman connected with Colyn Blackford on a 50-yard pass to top off the deal.
To compound matters for Clinton-Massie, Kenton recovered the onside kick. The Falcons would stop the drive on a Sherman fumble. But once again Clinton-Massie left their fans who made the journey to Welcome Stadium in anguish, driving all the way to the Kenton 6-yard line only to come up empty.
Time was becoming the Falcons' enemy with 1:36 left in the third quarter.
Once more Kenton moved the ball into Clinton-Massie territory. The Falcons would get the mental boost that they needed when Dustin Seitz picked off Sherman and returned it to the Wildcats’ 39. Four plays later, Chayse Wolf found the end zone for a second time to pull the Falcons within in six with 10:01 left.
Then Kenton coughed up the football on the ensuing kickoff. Clinton-Massie was back in business.
By then Bayle Wolf was beginning to wear down the Wildcats’ defense. The Southwest District Offensive Player of the Year would hit paydirt for the 26th time on the year, and Callum Jones' extra point gave the Falcons their first lead since the opening minute.
With 5:40 left, Kenton marched all the way down to the Falcons’ 29-yard line. Clinton-Massie elected to drop eight and nine players back in coverage. That forced three consecutive incomplete passes from Sherman. On fourth down, Bayle Wolf came up with a big sack that gave the Falcons the ball.
Wolf, who has been a touchdown machine throughout his career, will talk about the one he didn’t score against Kenton in the fourth quarter for years to come. With a minute left, Wolf broke free for an apparent score but elected to slide down at the Wildcats’ 4-yard line.
The Falcons ran out the clock and kept Kenton from having one last shot to try to win the game.
Clinton-Massie will face Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, winner of eight state titles and as recently as a 2011, ’09, ’06 and ’04. The Ohio Division IV state championship game is set for Friday at 3 p.m. at Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
RELATED: Read about Cardinal Mooney's victory