HAMILTON, Ohio -- For a 6-5 team to upset the No. 1-ranked undefeated team is one thing. To do it like St. Xavier did Friday night is truly remarkable.
The Bombers could have rolled over when they fell behind Colerain by 16 points with 4:39 left in the third quarter. Instead, St. X rolled on to a stunning 29-23 victory on a frigid night before a packed house at Hamilton High School.
"That was a hell of a game," St. Xavier coach Steve Specht said. "You can’t ask for a better game. Eight dollars for that? You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s fantastic."
The Bombers made big play after big play to get back in the game. A blocked punt for a touchdown. A conversion of a third-and-16. A couple of big scrambles and passes by Sean Clifford. Suddenly, the game was tied with 6:03 left.
That’s how regulation ended.
St. X won the coin toss and gave Colerain the ball first. The Cardinals couldn’t move it. After a missed field goal, St. X went for the win, calling pass when a sack could have put them out of field goal range.
"That’s our mentality," Clifford said. "Coach Specht says, 'We play hard, but we play dumb sometimes.' We’re going for it every single time. When I heard a pass call, I knew when I saw that coverage it was a touchdown. I almost overthrew him because I was so excited."
St. X is 7-5 and unranked. Colerain came in 11-0, No. 1 in the state with a win over St. X in Week 2. The Bombers, in fact, started 0-2 and lost three of their last four in the regular season.
Still, Colerain coach Tom Bolden knew this wouldn’t be easy.
"These games are always going to come down to the wire," Bolden said. "We made too many mistakes down the stretch, plain and simple. You can’t have a punt blocked. You can’t fumble the ball."
Clifford, a Penn State recruit, was only playing because starter Chase Wolf got hurt. Clifford brought the Bombers back with his arm and his feet in the first half. He hit 10 of 22 passes for 131 yards and ran 22 times for 87 yards.
Clifford has been dealing with a hamstring injury. Friday was the first game he was cleared to play in.
“He’s healthy," Specht said. “We didn’t know how healthy until he got on the field. Chase Wolf has done a great job. When you have two quality quarterbacks like that, it bodes well."
Clifford is an elusive runner, and Colerain came after him repeatedly. He was sacked three times, but he avoided the rush and turned near-sacks into first downs several times.
"They brought some blitzes we weren’t prepared for, I guess you’d say," Clifford said. "Taking nothing from our offensive line, they opened holes for me. But (the Cardinals) did blitz a lot. I used it to my advantage because less guys were in coverage."
St. Xavier came out smoking.
St. X’s Micah Farrah took the opening kickoff back 40 yards to the Colerain 46. Quinn Early ran for 16 yards on the first play. Wolf hit Farrar for 15 yards on the second play. Three plays later, Early took it in from three yards out. The extra point made it 7-0 a minute and 54 seconds in. It looked incredibly easy.
When Colerain went three-and-out, it looked like the Cardinals might be in trouble, but St. X roughed punter Patrick Murphy.
The game changed on that play. The Cardinals went 67 yards in five plays over 65 seconds. Monalo Caldwell ran it from 18 yards out for the score.
Colerain took the lead via -- get this -- the pass. Gunnar Leyendecker hit JJ Davis for 23 yards and a TD.
It looked like St. X would go into the half down only six. But a pass interference call kept a Colerain drive alive. On the next play, Leyendecker initially appeared to overthrow Keontae Jones as he sped down the left sideline. Jones turned on jets, caught up with the ball and sprinted the last 20 yards untouched for a 51-yard touchdown.
That gave Colerain a 20-7 lead with 1:29 left in the half.
When Ryan Murray hit a 26-yard field with the 4:39 left in the third quarter, it looked like the game was over.
Specht said he wasn’t concerned.
"I was more frustrated," he said. "The one constant for us has been defense. In the first half, we were not consistent. We blew coverage, made some assignment errors. That was frustrating. I didn’t feel like we were playing poorly. We were playing hard. We weren’t playing smart."
But St. Xavier got the big play it needed. Brady Stoll blocked Murray’s punt, and Carl Grimm picked it up and ran it in from the 4. The Bombers went for two to try to make it a one-score game. The pass failed, but the TD made it 23-13 with 1:30 to go in the quarter.
"There was a huge momentum shift," Specht said. “It almost gets out of control for you. I’ve been on both sides of it."
St. Xavier would not go away. Clifford hit a wide-open Moeller for 31 yards on a third-and-12. That took it to the 12. Two plays later, Clifford ran it in from 11 yards out.
That made it 23-20 with 7:50 left.
Colerain went three-and-out on the next drive and Clifford got St. X going again. The key play was a 28-yard hookup with Cameron Specht. St. X settled for a 30-yard Kevin Rockwood field goal.
Both team had chances to take the lead, but it went to OT.
Any season-ending loss is tough. This was especially hard for Bolden: It was his son Kyle’s final high school game.
"It’s tough," he said. "Your heart goes out to the kids. You feel sorry. You want them to lose with class. That’s the biggest thing. It’s a little tough for me this year. I’m trying to be as professional as I can. I just saw my son play his last high school game. I talked to him a little bit but probably not as much as I should."
St. X will advance to the regional final against Sycamore.