MASON, Ohio – The top-seeded Colerain Cardinals never gave up, scoring two late touchdowns that gave them a chance to tie the game in the final minute.
But the Cardinals made too many mistakes against a tough Wayne defense and put themselves in a hole that was too deep to climb out of.
Two bad punt snaps led to Wayne touchdowns on short 10-yard "drives," and an interception led to another. Wayne (14-0) didn't suffer any of the turnovers that plagued Colerain (12-2) in the rainy, sloppy condition and won the Ohio Division I semifinal, 28-21, Saturday night at Mason High School.
Wayne came in with a chip on its shoulder and dominated the second half short of the last 3 ½ minutes.
“I do not think anybody was giving us a chance in this game tonight,” Wayne coach Jay Minton said.
“We were the underdogs and they thought they already had us beat, but we came out to prove them wrong,” said running back Darryl McCleskey.
The state runner-up from a year ago capitalized on Colerain miscues to open the scoring and never trailed.
After a scoreless first quarter, Wayne struck first on a 1-yard run by junior running back Fred Pitts. Wayne only had to go 10 yards after the Colerain center snapped the ball over punter Christian Dinveski's head.
Colerain answered two minutes later when senior quarterback DeShaunte Jones found sophomore Gunner Leyendecker on a 12-yard touchdown reception.
Disaster struck Colerain again in the third quarter when Dinveski muffed a low snap and Wayne recovered at the Colerain 10. McCleskey ran untouched into the end zone on first down for a 14-7 lead.
Beside rushing for 41 yards on seven carries, McCleskey had an important interception in third quarter and a 33-yard return that gave Wayne good field position. That led to a 26-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Messiah DeWeaver to junior Matt Wilcox.
The Warriors extended the lead 28-7 when Pitts, the game's leading rusher with 69 yards, ran in from 4 yards with 3:38 left.
The Cardinals could have packed it in at that point, but Jones ran 4 yards for a TD with 3:38 left, then Jones hit Amir Riep in stride across the middle and Riep outran the defense for a 68-yard touchdown with 63 seconds left.
Colerain tried an onside kick, but one of the Cardinals caught the ball off the bounce before it went 10 yards, and Wayne ran out the clock.
Colerain dominated in yardage (352-176) and first downs (20-12) but Wayne had no turnovers to Colerain's three.
The Cardinals had amassed more than 500 yards in their last two playoff games and averaged 45 points in the playoffs. Wayne's defense held Colerain to only 21 points for the first time since September. That actually happened on this same field when they defeated Mason 21-7 during GMC play.
“Our scout did a great job preparing us during the week, and our defensive coordinator is the best,” said McCleskey.
This will be Wayne’s fourth trip to the state final, but the Warriors have yet to take home the championship.
“We are going to be doing a lot of film prep this week,” Minton said. “Our kids know they deserve to be here, and we are not just going up there to represent the community, but actually win it.”
W: Fred Pitts 1-yard run (Strong kick)
C: Gunnar Leyendecker 12-yard pass from D. Jones (Dinevski kick)
W: Daryl McCleskey 10-yard run (Strong kick)
W: Matt Wilcox 26-yard pass from M. DeWeaver (Strong kick)
W: Fred Pitts 4-yard run (Strong kick)
C: DeShaunte Jones 4-yard run (Dinevski kick)
C: Amir Riep 68-yard pass from D. Jones (Dinevski kick)