High School Football: Wildcats ready to break through state semifinals barrier

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

The Springfield High School football team has knocked on the door to the Division I state championship game each of the past two seasons.

On Friday night, the Wildcats hope to rip the door off its hinges, breaking through for their first trip to Canton in school history.

Fifth-ranked Springfield (12-1), which lost to Cincinnati Elder and Cincinnati St. Xavier in the state semifinals the last two seasons, will play No. 10 Cincinnati Moeller (11-3) in a D-I state semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday at Sidney Memorial Stadium.

The winner will face either No. 3 Lakewood St. Edward (13-1) or No. 4 Upper Arlington (14-0) in the D-I state championship game at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5, at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

The Wildcats are seeking to become the first Clark County team to win a state championship in the playoff era, which began in 1972. State champions were determined by wire service polls prior to that. Only two other teams in Clark County history have advanced to the state championship game — Catholic Central in 1991 and Shawnee in 2011.

“It’s a crazy feeling,” said senior wide receiver Dominic Turner. “A lot of people don’t get this opportunity one time in their life and to be given this opportunity three times, it’s a crazy feeling. Going into this week, we just have to prepare well and kick down that door. The last two years this is the farthest we’ve been, so we’ve got to kick down that door and win it.”

The Wildcats will face one of Ohio’s storied programs. Moeller is making its 17th final four appearance and first since 2014. It has won nine state titles, most recently in 2013.

“We’ve got to be sound as far as our assignments defensively, making sure we make the right reads,” said Springfield coach Maurice Douglass. “On the offensive side of the ball, make sure we have ball security. We have to win third downs like we’ve been winning all year and stop the run.”

The Crusaders run a spread offense and they’re led by senior quarterback Noah Geselbracht, who’s thrown for 2,913 yards and 31 TDs this season. Dual threat sophomore running back Jordan Marshall has rushed for 1,001 yards and 12 TDs and caught 23 passes for 427 yards and seven TDs. The Crusaders receiving corps includes four players with 35 or more catches and is led by junior Tennel Bryant (70 receptions, 895 yards, 15 TDs).

“If you stop them from running and make them one-dimensional, it allows our guys to be able to do what they do well — pass rush and do a good job on the back end covering,” Douglass said.

Making history is nothing new for Douglass, who became the first black head coach in Ohio High School Athletic Association history to win a state title at Trotwood-Madison in 2012. He hopes to become the first black coach to win a D-I state title this season, he said.

“We’re just excited about the opportunity to see it come to pass for these guys and their journey,” Douglass said. “We’re trying to hone in and find all the little things we need to find on film and make sure our guys are healthy and ready to go on Friday night.”

The Wildcats will be well-rested this week thanks to the district’s decision earlier this month to take off the entire Thanksgiving week, Douglass said.

“It gives an opportunity to focus a little bit more and pay attention to detail,” he said.

Turner is happy for another chance to take the field. The senior broke his collarbone in the preseason and was told he likely wouldn’t play again this season. He returned to the field in Week 10 against Northmont and has caught nine passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns over the past five games, including a TD catch in the Wildcats’ 27-0 regional final victory over Marysville.

“I had faith in the team knowing that they would bring us this far,” Turner said.

Today’s Game

Who: Springfield (12-1) vs. Moeller (13-0)

What: Division I state semifinal

When: Today, 7 p.m.

Where: Sidney Memorial Stadium

Tickets: To purchase tickets, log on to OHSAA.org/tickets.

TV: The game will be broadcast live on Spectrum 1 and can also be purchased for streaming at OHSAA.tv.

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