St. X rallied for a fourth consecutive week in the second half to defeat Cleveland St. Ignatius 27-20 in double overtime in front of 13,690 at Ohio Stadium.
“I’ve been around this for 25 years,” St. Xavier athletic director John Sullivan said on the field. “This is the greatest game I’ve ever been a part of. We have two previous state championships, but this was tooth and nail and we were a five-loss team. Nobody expected us to be here. It’s just been tremendous.”
It was just the second double overtime game in Division I state football finals history and the first since Hilliard Davidson defeated Mentor in 2006.
St. X (10-5) became the first five-loss team to win a state football championship in Ohio. The Bombers persevered in a 15-week season that had many ups and downs and plenty of injuries.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a group of kids,” St. X coach Steve Specht said. “It’s a little surreal right now when you finish the (regular) season 5-5 and everybody is looking at you sideways and wondering how you sneak into the playoffs. Now we are sitting here state champions at 10-5. It’s been an unbelievable year. I am kind of stumped right now.”
Nothing came easy for the Bombers Friday night against a Cleveland St. Ignatius program that was 11-1 in state finals under longtime coach Chuck Kyle. The Wildcats (13-2) were ranked No. 8 nationally by the MaxPreps computer rankings this season.
St. Ignatius led 10-0 at halftime. The Wildcats blocked a punt on the Bombers’ first drive of the game and scored a touchdown. The first quarter couldn’t have started any worse.
But, the Bombers didn’t fold. They hadn’t all season. St. X had just 47 yards of total offense in the first half, including 2 of 12 passing for 23 yards.
Senior Kevin Rockwood kicked a 31-yard field goal early in the third quarter to close the gap to 10-3.
The Bombers’ defense held firm. Senior punter Josh Glaser had eight punts and effectively impacted the field position.
St. Xavier senior quarterback Sean Clifford found junior wide receiver Andrew Wittrock for a 22-yard touchdown pass to help tie the game at 10 with 5:21 left in the third quarter.
Then, when Glaser pinned the Wildcats at their 5-yard line with another excellent punt, the Bombers’ defense took advantage.
Senior Jacob Buerkle stripped the ball from the St. Ignatius running back and junior Blake Bacevich recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. That gave the Bombers a 17-10 lead with 6:49 left.
St. Ignatius sustained another long drive and tied the game with 1:11 remaining on a fourth-down touchdown pass.
The Wildcats went up 20-17 in the first overtime with a field goal and Rockwood answered with his own. Rockwood and St. Ignatius kicker Matthew Trickett tied a state finals record with two field goals each. They set a state finals record for most combined field goals.
Then in the second overtime, Wittrock caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Clifford for the game-winning score.
Steve Specht to team: "Seniors, boy you have left an unbelievable legacy"
Senior Pete Rumpke had a game-high 13 tackles, Grimm had 12 and Bacevich had 10.
It was the third overtime win for the Bombers in these playoffs.
"What would be more suiting for us?" said Bacevich. "We've gone to overtime with Colerain, Sycamore - that's how we like it. We came down to the wire. We don't know give up. We play until the whistle plays and that's what we did tonight."
“It just speaks to the resiliency of this team - what we’ve been through and the never-quit attitude,” Grimm said.
Clifford, a Penn State commit, finished 10 of 25 passing for 142 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 44 yards in his final high school game.
He took a physical toll all night but could smile about it in the postgame news conference knowing the Bombers are state champions.
"It's a really good sore," Clifford said. "A very, very good sore."
"It's unbelievable," said Bacevich. "I've dreamed of this since I was 5 years old. For this dream to come true - it's unreal."
It is the first time the Division I state final wasn’t played on a Saturday since 1991.
St. X, which is 41-20 all-time in the playoffs, was in the state final for the first time since 2007 when the Bombers won their second title under Specht. The Bombers made their sixth state final appearance. St. X also won state in 2005.