Seven years ago, the Shawnee Braves came closer than any team in Clark County history to winning a state football championship.
Brad Jarzab’s pass on 4th-and-5 from the Youngstown Cardinal Mooney 17-yard line was knocked away, ending a potential game-tying touchdown drive with 1:11 to play. The Braves returned to Springfield with a 21-14 loss in the Division III final. Mooney captured its eighth state championship.
“It’s a bittersweet thing being that close,” said Shawnee coach Rick Meeks after that game in Canton. “You just don’t get those opportunities very often.”
That remains true for the nine Clark County high schools with football programs. Shawnee, Springfield and Northwestern will represent the county in the 2018 playoffs, which begin Friday. That brings the total number of playoff appearances by the county schools — counting six by North and South, which merged into Springfield High School in 2008 — to 56. Clark County’s record in those games is 39-53.
While the quest for the first state championship continues, there have been many memorable games, moments and performances over the years. Here’s a look back at Clark County’s playoff history:
First team: The state playoff system began in 1972 with only 12 teams from the state, four from three classes, advancing to the postseason through the 1979 season. In 1980, the playoffs expanded to 40 teams from five divisions.
Three years later, in 1983, the Southeastern Trojans became the first Clark County team to reach the postseason. The Trojans finished the regular season 10-0. Senior Rod Kaffenbarger rushed for 1,178 yards and 17 touchdowns. Junior Darin Spitzer threw 10 touchdown passes.
“It’s been the best offensive year we’ve had around here,” said coach John West, who was in his ninth season.
The Trojans lost 26-21 at Middletown Fenwick in the first round when John Hurlburt threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Marty McQuinn with 1:16 remaining in the fourth quarter in a Division V playoff game.
First win: In 1988, the North Panthers recorded the first playoff victory in county history, beating Lima Senior 17-13 on the road in the first round. Myron Bacon returned a kickoff 98 yards for a score, and Adam Hall ran for 110 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
It would be North’s only victory in two playoff appearances. It returned to the postseason in 1992.
“I’ll tell you what, nobody, nobody, thought we could win this game,” Springfield coach Robertson said after the playoff win. “Even the other WOL (Western Ohio League) schools thought we were lucky to get in.”
Most appearances: Catholic Central hasn’t reached the playoffs in seven years but still leads the county with 12 appearances. With a 13-12 record, the Irish also lead the county in playoff victories, though Shawnee (11-7, .611) has the best winning percentage.
Best teams: The two teams to play in the state championship share this honor. In 1991, 20 years before Shawnee’s run to the final, Catholic Central lost 20-7 to Warren John F. Kennedy in the Division IV title game in Massillon.
Quarterback Patrick Hannon scored the Irish’s only touchdown on a 1-yard run in the third quarter. The Irish failed to score on three other drives inside the 20. Central finished the season 12-2.
Longest wait: Northwestern, which plays Cincinnati Wyoming in the first round at 7 p.m. Saturday, will make its first playoff appearance in 2018. That leaves Greenon as the only county school to have never advanced to the playoffs.
Great finish: Southeastern beat Covington 27-21 in the second round in 2001 behind 178 rushing yards on 27 carries by Brian Cooper. Mike Ramthum threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Matt Locke to give the Trojans the lead with 16 seconds left in the game. It was the third of five playoff appearances for Southeastern, which last made the postseason in 2009.
Heartbreaking defeat: In the last of four playoff appearances, the South Wildcats won two games by double digits in 2002 before losing 31-28 to Findlay in 2002 in a Division I regional final.
Quarterback Chris Clark passed for 281 yards, but the Wildcats couldn’t hold on to a 28-14 second-half lead. Findlay turned two botched punts into 10 points in the fourth quarter.
“The sun’s going to come up in the morning,” Clark said then. “Coach always told us the sun is going to come up in the morning.”
Unlucky seven: Northeastern has earned playoff berths seven times, most recently in 2003. The Jets lost in the first round each time, four times by a combined nine points.
“Close games are always determined by who makes a good play or the team who doesn’t,” said Jerry Wasserman, who coached the Jets from 1980-2005, in 2009. “It’s exciting. The kids who play in those games remember it forever.”
Defensive battle: Kenton Ridge made the first of four playoff appearances in 2004 and won its first game, beating Carlisle 6-0 in Springfield. Loren Fleischman scored on an 11-yard run with 23 seconds left in the game.
“Originally, we were trying to get to the middle of the field to set up a field goal,” Kenton Ridge coach Joel Marratta said then. “I guess (Loren) just decided he wasn’t going to be denied getting to the end zone.”
Rushing duo: Tristan Murray and Deacon Minna combined for 272 rushing yards for Tecumseh in a 21-6 victory against Columbus Independnce in the first round in 2001. It was the second of nine playoff appearances for the Arrows, who lost 28-14 to Columbus Bishop Watterson in the Division II regional final.