WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Liam Clifford saw the football sail through the chilly air toward him as he completed a corner route in the end zone Friday night.
Everything went through his mind before the ball arrived in his hands for the game-winning touchdown with just 27 seconds remaining.
"It was something I will never forget," the St. Xavier senior wide receiver said. "It was wild. It made me emotional and it was fun. I love this team, and we're not done yet."
St. X had trailed by four points on second down at the Lakota West 17-yard line with just 31 seconds left in the game. The season hung in the balance.
Junior quarterback Brogan McCaughey wanted the corner route to go to Clifford.
McCaughey said later everything was executed perfectly – from the offensive line to the receivers.
The significance of the moment wasn't lost on Clifford, who is verbally committed to Penn State.
"Just like, 'This is it. I'm going to catch it, we're going to win and we're going to keep rolling,'" Clifford said after the game.
The Bombers continue to roll along.
St. X rallied to defeat host Lakota West 10-7 Friday night in the Division I, Region 4 final.
"Ever since I was little, watching my brother (Penn State quarterback and former St. X standout Sean Clifford) play here, and just growing up around St. X football – this is what you dream of," Clifford said after the game.
"This is what every little kid dreams of."
Friday night marked the eighth regional title for the Bombers in program history.
"This was a classic battle," St. X coach Steve Specht said. "This is what I love about Region 4."
St. X (8-2) advances to play Springfield (8-1) in a Division I state semifinal Nov. 6 at Piqua High School's Alexander Stadium.
"I can't be more proud of everybody," McCaughey said.
Lakota West and St. Xavier had strong defensive efforts throughout the game. There were nine punts for each team.
In the end, Specht and Lakota West coach Tom Bolden believed it was a game neither team will soon forget for its ultimate competitiveness and talent on the field.
The teams traded several punts before the first points on the scoreboard.
St. X led 3-0 at halftime after junior Mason Rohmiller made a 32-yard field goal at the 4:17 mark of the second quarter.
Lakota West (8-1) took the lead with 6:44 left in the third quarter when sophomore quarterback Mitch Bolden – Tom's son – scored on a 14-yard touchdown run. Senior Matthew Howard added the point-after attempt as the Firebirds led 7-3.
Both defensive units made plays down the stretch in the fourth quarter. But the Bombers kept finding answers offensively on their last drive.
McCaughey found senior wide receiver Jalen Patterson for a 16-yard pass connection on fourth down and 10 with under a minute remaining to help put St. X in the red zone and set up the game-winning touchdown pass to Clifford.
"We did enough to win the game," Specht said. "We made one more play and I'm excited as heck for our kids, but you hate to see anybody lose a game like that."
Junior running back Charles Kellom had 22 carries for 114 yards for the Bombers. Junior running back Luke Vrsansky had 13 carries for 66 yards.
Clifford, who had five receptions for 45 yards, became the Bombers' all-time receptions leader with 153, according to St. X statistician Kelby Siler.
Junior wide receiver Terrell McFarlin had five receptions for 42 yards.
Defensively, senior linebacker Matthew Devine had a team-high 11 tackles for the Bombers. St. X senior punter Gavin Vogelgesang had nine punts for 292 yards.
Lakota West, which won the outright Greater Miami Conference title and finished as a regional runner-up, continued to make significant progress this season under Tom Bolden, who completed his second season in West Chester.
"It's amazing to get to this point and to play a legendary game like that," Bolden said. "They're just classics. I told the kids that it's all about making memories. We made memories, but unfortunately it's not the one we wanted."
Junior linebacker Aden Miller had a game-high 15 tackles including a sack to help lead a strong Firebirds defensive effort. Senior defensive back William Barber had 10 tackles.
Senior running back Joshua Brogden had eight carries for 78 yards. Junior running back Cameron Goode had seven carries for 63 yards.
However, the Firebirds couldn't find a consistent rhythm offensively and garnered just nine first downs.
Lakota West senior punter Caleb Rao had eight punts for 310 yards.
"I'm excited for the future, but more my heart goes out to these seniors," Bolden said.