Nick Clevenger hugged teammates, then stiff-armed the tears long enough to say a few words.
“It’s a hard loss,” said Greeneview’s hard-running quarterback who’s not used to losing. “We kept it close with the defending state champs. I couldn’t be more proud of my guys.”
The Rams did what few teams do against Wheelersburg — the defending Division V state champions — and trailed by eight points when they went for it on fourth-and-3 from their 45-yard line with 4:24 left. Clevenger was stopped short of the first down. The Pirates responded with two late long touchdown runs to finally put away the Rams 35-13 in the Region 20 semifinals.
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“Against a team like Wheelersburg you gotta play to win,” Rams coach Ryan Haines said.
The Pirates face unbeaten Middletown Madison, a 50-6 winner over Cincinnati Hills Christian, for the regional title next week.
Greeneview (10-2) created three turnovers, including two interceptions by Collin Wilson. Clay Payton’s 10-yard touchdown run late in the first half left the Rams trailing 14-10 at halftime. Jon Brakeall kicked field goals of 36 and 38 yards, the second cutting the Rams’ deficit to 21-13 with 3:49 left in the third quarter.
All along it was the power running of Clevenger (24 carries, 106 yards) and Payton (17 carries, 78 yards) and Clevenger’s passing (10-of-18, 87 yards) that kept the Rams moving the ball. But against the deep and talented Pirates (11-1), the Rams couldn’t match their speed and big plays.
Makya Matthews scored a 49-yard punt return and a 30-yard run. Tanner Holden, a 6-foot-6 receiver who will play basketball at Wright State, took a screen pass up the middle of the field for a 62-yard touchdown. And Evan Horsley scored on a 45-yard run.
“Great football teams make big plays,” Clevenger said. “There’s a reason they’re here. There’s a reason they’re going into next week.”
The Rams have been to the playoffs five straight years and lost four times in the second round. It’s a hump they want to get over, but this senior class tied last year’s senior class and the 1996 class for the most wins in a four-year stretch with 37.
“It’s great being recognized as one of the best teams that this school’s ever had,” Clevenger said. “But we don’t really think about the number of games. Every week we just try to come out here and be 1-0.”
Haines said the Wheelersburg coaches complimented him after the game about how physical and tough the Rams played. It was similar to the reaction the team got two years ago after losing to state power Coldwater 27-24.
“They’re going back to Wheelersburg knowing who Greeneview is — that’s a testament to our kids,” Haines said. “Greeneview football is here to stay and it’s because our kids won’t let it go away — I won’t let it go away.”