Just before accepting Mechanicsburg’s first regional championship trophy, coach Kurt Forrest repeated, “OHC, OHC.” That was his small way of consoling the Tigers of West Liberty-Salem, who were listening 10 yards away and watching their state championship dreams die as they clutched the runner-up trophy.
It was a great night for the Ohio Heritage Conference, but a greater night for the Indians, who rallied from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to win 34-28 Friday in two overtimes in a Division VI, Region 22 regional final at Harmon Field.
Mechanicsburg (11-2) advances to the state semifinals for the first time with its seventh straight win and second overtime win of the season.
“There’s a lot of firsts,” Forrest said. “It’s the school’s first (state) appearance. To tell you this team did it, I couldn’t pick a better group of boys to do it. We’re going to celebreate like crazy and enjoy the moment, and we’ll absolutely get back to work to prepare for a final four football game.”
West Liberty-Salem got the ball first in the second overtime and was stopped on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Kaleb Romero’s 4-yard touchdown run in the second overtime period won the game for Mechanicsburg.
The Mechanicsburg players dumped a bucket of water on Forrest as they celebrated after the winning score.
“It was cold, and it was the best bath I ever had,” Forrest said.
The Indians were the fourth seed in Region 22. They will play the fifth seed from Region 20, Haviland Wayne Trace (12-1), in the state semifinals. Wayne Trace beat No. 7 seed Ada 68-14 on Friday. Wayne Trace is making its second playoff appearance and also has never played in the state semifinals.
The other side of the bracket features a semifinal between Kirtland (13-0) and Columbus Bishop Ready (12-1).
The state semifinal game will be played a neutral site, which will be announced Sunday. Mechanicsburgh’s game could very well be played in Wapakoneta again, because Wayne Trace is located northwest of Wapakoneta.
For most of the night, it looked as if West Liberty-Salem would be the OHC team moving on to state.
West Liberty-Salem dominated the first quarter and half of the second quarter, building a 14-0 lead.
Taylor Cordell opened the scoring with a 57-yard touchdown run with five minutes left in the first quarter. A 9-yard touchdown run by Ben Burden in the second quarter made it 14-0.
At the end of the first half, Mechanicsburg got its offense moving, and scored on a 34-yard pass from Romero to Tim Rader.
Mechanicsburg seized the momentum early in the second half with a blocked punt. The Indians drove all the way to the 1-yard line before being stopped on fourth down.
With two seconds left in the third quarter, West Liberty-Salem quarter Landon Williams scored from two yards out to give the Tigers a 21-6 lead.
Mechanicsburg rallied in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns. Romero threw a 19-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to Brandon Purk.
The Indians then forced the Tigers twice to punt. A roughing the kicker penalty extended one West Liberty drive. Still the Indians had just enough time to drive for the tying score.
The big play in the final minutes was a 71-yard pass from Romero to Purk. That set up a 4-yard TD run by Aeryton Erwin and then a two-point conversion pass from Romero to Rader to tie the game with 21 seconds left.
In the first overtime, each team scored on its first play. Romero threw a 20-yard TD pass to Purk, and Williams scored on a 20-yard run for West Liberty.
Mechanicsburg is the second OHC team to make the state final four. The first was Catholic Central in 2007. The only previous Champaign County school to make the state semifinals was Urbana, which was state runner-up in 1983 and made the semifinals in 1988 and 1982.
This was the first ever meeting between the two Champaign County and Ohio Heritage Conference rivals in the playoffs. Mechanicsburg beat the Tigers 32-22 in West Liberty in the regular season, snapping a four-game losing streak against the Tigers.
Mechanicsburg, making its 10th playoff appearance and first since 2008, improved its playoff record to 10-9.
West Liberty, making its eighth playoff appearance, all since 2004, is now 7-7 in playoff games.