SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio — St. Xavier senior linebacker Matthew Devine walked into school Monday morning and realized the significance of his final week of high school football.
"This program means the world to me," Devine said.
St. X (9-2) will play Pickerington Central (11-0) in the Division I state final at 7 p.m. Friday at Fortress Obetz, a multi-purpose sports complex located in Obetz on the southeast side of Columbus.
This has been the most unique Ohio high school football season anyone can remember due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the Bombers have persevered and have an opportunity to win the school's fourth state football title.
"It's truly something special," Devine said. "In the offseason the captains kind of talked about doing something special and there's been a lot of adversity this year obviously with COVID-19 and everything. And every week the coaches and the players just stress being your personal best."
The Bombers have met every challenge this postseason, including two wins in the past two weeks by a combined five points where they had to rally in the second half.
"They don't quit," St. X coach Steve Specht said. "They keep fighting. It's never over until it's completely over. I think that's one of the things that this has taught the kids this whole pandemic is you got to plug, you've got to keep pushing. You never know what's going to happen. And if you do that good things happen."
While the St. X offense received most of the spotlight until late October, the defense has been instrumental in helping the Bombers reach their seventh state final in program history.
Devine had a game-high 12 tackles (eight solo), including two sacks, along with a blocked field goal attempt to help the Bombers in a 12-10 win over Springfield on Nov. 6 in the state semifinal at Piqua.
Devine, an Air Force commit, has 105 tackles (5 1/2 sacks) this season.
"I've had kids as good of leaders but none better," Specht said. "That's the best way for me to say it. He is tremendous. When Air Force finally offered him, that was his No. 1 pick all along. And when they offered him he was so excited. And I thought that's poetic justice. Here's a kid who is a throwback. I love him. I think he's as good as anybody I've ever coached in this game at the high school level."
St. X has several other defensive standouts including junior defensive back Eli Kirk (73 tackles), senior defensive back Gabe DuBois (six interceptions) and senior defensive lineman Giovanni Albanese (53 tackles).
Albanese said the entire team is grateful for the opportunity this week.
"Our theme all year has been adversity," Albanese said. "And just being able to be here has been really exciting just because of that. Back in March I didn't get to play baseball so we didn't have that season. So we didn't even know if we would have football."
Specht said the players have "weathered the storms" in keeping the focus on football all season.
"I've said it before but this year has been so different because you had to focus so hard on the task at hand and clear, get rid of all the craziness," said Specht, who is 3-0 in state championship games as a head coach. "Clear the mechanism as we like to say and focus on the day at hand."
St. X offense is also led offensively by senior wide receiver Liam Clifford (Penn State verbal commit), who has 68 receptions for 1,084 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Clifford, the program's all-time receptions leader, has caught at least one touchdown pass in eight consecutive games.
Senior wide receiver Jalen Patterson has 58 receptions for 759 yards and five touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Brogan McCaughey has thrown for 2,416 yards and 24 touchdowns. Junior running back Charles Kellom has rushed for 848 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The special teams has been very good with junior kicker Mason Rohmiller and senior punter Gavin Vogelgesang.
"People want to talk about our offense, and I say, let me talk about our team," Specht said. "Let me talk about the coaching staff, let me talk about the parents, the community. Quit talking about one facet because that's not how you win in life. You need a lot of different moving parts to come together and play as one to be successful."
Pickerington Central, the 2019 Division I state champion, is ranked No. 11 nationally by MaxPreps.
The Tigers were No. 1 in the Associated Press Division I state poll while St. X was No. 6.
Pickerington Central is led by several players including senior defensive back/wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr., who is verbally committed to Notre Dame, senior quarterback Garner Wallace, senior running back Nick Mosley and sophomore defensive back Alex Styles.
Defensively, junior linebacker Reece Brancifort and senior linebacker William Dukes are the leading tacklers.
"They've got great talent," Specht said. "The Styles kids are unbelievable. One committed to Notre Dame, the other one is going to pick his school -- he's only a sophomore. Just incredibly athletic, fast, big. There is a reason why they're in the state championship. But as I told our kids, 'There is a reason you're in the state championship, too. Don't forget that.' We're not apologizing. We worked hard. We battled. We're better. Let's go play the game."