CANTON, Ohio — The Winton Woods High School football team is bringing home a state championship trophy.
"Just unbelievable for these kids," Winton Woods coach Chad Murphy said. "It's not cliche, it's true — just couldn't be happier for Winton Woods High School, Winton Woods football and these kids."
Winton Woods defeated Akron Archbishop Hoban 21-10 in the Division II state final in front of 5,440 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
"It means so much to send my brothers out in the best way possible," Winton Woods junior wide receiver/running back KC Spears said. "I've been playing with most of them since we were four and five years old, and now they're going to leave me, but at least they left in a good way. I love these boys."
It is the second state football championship for Winton Woods (13-3), who also captured the 2009 Division II title.
This was the Warriors' third state final appearance and the first since it was a state runner-up in 2017 to Hoban (13-3), a five-time state champion making its seventh consecutive state final appearance Thursday night.
"It's just unreal," Murphy said of the state title. "Words can't express it. I still don't know if it's actually set in. I'm not sure it's actually set in they we're a state champ. We're going to enjoy it. And according to the way that these guys are looking right now, it looks like we found something really special."
Winton Woods senior defensive end Jayron Gibson knelt at midfield soaking in the special moment of being a state champion in his final high school football game.
"It's very special," Gibson said. "I will remember this for the rest of my life."
Gibson's teammates will undoubtedly never forget the journey.
Winton Woods started the season with a 1-2 record under Murphy, who was hired this past spring. But the Warriors always persevered and thrived toward the second half of the regular season.
"Change isn't easy on anybody," Murphy said. "It takes time. These kids have handled it for good from the get-go. Just constantly believing more and more."
The Winton Woods defense was strong yet again Thursday night. Hoban was never able to get into a rhythm offensively. The Knights had just 192 yards of total offense.
Winton Woods junior defensive back Lorenzo Hudson had a game-high 10 tackles. Senior linebacker Jeremiah Anderson had nine tackles and junior linebacker Qierstin Williams had seven tackles.
Hoban went ahead 3-0 on the first play of the second quarter when senior Charlie Durkin made a 20-yard field goal.
That score was set up after a crucial punt play gave Hoban advantageous field position at the Winton Woods' 10-yard line. The referee called the Winton Woods punter's knee down on the ground on the attempt to put Hoban in the red zone.
However, Winton Woods quickly responded after the field goal. The Warriors sustained a successful drive starting at their own 30-yard line. Senior running back Ty'Rek Spikes had a 45-yard carry that gave the Warriors 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line.
Winton Woods took the lead two plays later after senior quarterback Buddy Ellery scored on a quarterback keeper to help give the Warriors a 7-3 lead.
Hoban missed a 49-yard field goal attempt on its next drive and the Warriors took advantage. Spikes had a 44-yard carry on the third play to put the Warriors in the red zone.
Spikes scored four plays later on a two-yard touchdown run with 46 seconds left in the second quarter and junior kicker Dan Umba Dombele added the extra point to give the Warriors a 14-3 halftime lead.
Hoban struck first in the second half when senior Caleb Kepler stripped the football from the Winton Woods running back and ran it back 21 yards for a touchdown to help close the gap to 14-10.
Still, Winton Woods answered quickly. Spears scored on a 53-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive to help give the Warriors a 21-10 lead at the 10:20 mark of the third quarter.
The Warriors held onto their lead through the fourth quarter, winning the second state football championship in school history.
Spikes had 22 carries for 153 yards. Ellery had 10 carries for 87 yards. Spears had four carries for 60 yards.