Shawnee football coach Rick Meeks couldn’t help but point out the flecks of gray in his beard after another wild night in November on Friday night. He’s probably not graying because of his football team, but you never know. The way the Braves play in the playoffs — often winning, but rarely easily — Meeks is lucky he has any hair at all.
“I’m getting too old for this,” Meeks.
The latest chapter for a program that has now won six straight games in the first round featured a back-and-forth game with more momentum shifts than a ping-pong game. The crazy night ended with Shawnee’s backup quarterback, Alec Bennett, threading a fourth-down pass to David Barnett for a 6-yard touchdown in overtime and then the Braves forcing an incompletion on 4th-and-3 to end the game.
A 41-34 victory for Shawnee (10-1) sends it to the second round for the fifth straight season. It will play Trotwood-Madison at 7:30 p.m. next Friday in the Division III, Region 10 semifinals at a site to be determined. No. 7 seed Trotwood (8-2) beat No. 2 seed Franklin 42-7 on Friday.
The Braves take pride in their success in the first round.
“I’ve pointed that out to them,” Meeks said. “Since we’ve been in our league for 11 seasons, our five other previous trips (to the playoffs), we hadn’t lost. It was a goal of our seniors to make it to the regional finals, having lost in the second round last year. We had a heartbreaker, blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead to lose to Athens. They want to get back to the regional finals. Obviously, we’ll have a tall order with Trotwood.
“We don’t lose in the first round. We knock off higher seeds. We did that with Goshen in ‘09 when they were the one seed. Last year we knock off Alter when they were the two seed.”
Wapakoneta (9-1) was the third seed, and Shawnee was the sixth seed. It was the first-ever home playoff game for the Redskins, and it started off poorly for them.
On its first offensive play, Wapakoneta lost a fumble. Shawnee marched down and scored on a run by Clay Phillips. On the first play of Shawnee’s second possession, quarterback Saalih Muhammad scored on a 74-yard run.
It was all Shawnee at that point, but it didn’t last. By halftime, the Redskins had cut the lead to 21-18. Neither team scored in the third, and Shawnee went ahead 28-18 in the fourth on Jalen Nelson’s second touchdown run.
Again Wapakoneta refused to go away. Two touchdown runs by Zach Schmerge, the second with 1:38 to play, gave the Redskins a 31-28 lead. By this point, Muhammad had left the game with a back injury — he said on the sideline late in the game it wasn’t bad and he would be able to play next week — and Bennett was playing quarterback.
“He was our penciled starter coming into the year,” Meeks said. “Saalih moved into our district. We felt comfortable with Alec coming into the game. He’s a kid that had been in our system. Mental-wise he’s a little ahead of Saalih because he’s been doing it longer and understands what we do. Saalih is just more athletic than Alec. We didn’t think we’d miss too much of a beat there.”
Bennett fumbled in the fourth quarter as Shawnee was trying to run the clock down with a 10-point lead, but he more than made up for it. First he made some key throws as Shawnee drove for the go-ahead score in the final minute. That drive featured two 15-yard penalties on the same play against Wapakoneta, one for pass interference and one for unsportsmanlike conduct. That put Shawnee in position for Nelson to run 22 yards for a touchdown with 38 seconds.
It looked like the game-winning touchdown, but Wapakoneta rallied again and kicked a 33-yard field goal to tie the game as time expired in the fourth quarter.
Muhammad finished with 133 rushing yards on 15 carries. Nelson ran for 109 yards on 17 carries. Bennett carried six times for 47 yards.
Schmerge ran for 117 yards on 24 carries.