Springfield focuses on finishing mission in 2021 after second straight semifinal loss

Wildcats force five turnovers but fall to St. Xavier in state semifinals

The Springfield Wildcats walked slowly off one side of the field at Alexander Stadium in Piqua on Friday as the Cincinnati St. Xavier players, including two who did backflips, celebrated on the other side.

Disappointment and jubilation follow every high school football playoff game. Both are amplified in the state final four. That’s what made Springfield’s dejection so much greater.

For the second straight year, the Wildcats lost to a Greater Catholic League South team in the Division I state semifinals, and while the 2019 Wildcats had a chance to at least get to overtime before losing 31-24 to Cincinnati Elder, the 2020 team could have and should have beaten St. Xavier.

Instead, Springfield returned home with a 12-10 loss and a final record of 8-2, stung by missed chances and mistakes but buoyed by a bright future.

“It was seven points last year,” Springfield coach Maurice Douglass said. “It was two points this year. Now next year, let’s get over the hump. We’ve got 16 returning starters for next year, and I’ve got a host of babies (freshmen) coming up next year. We’ll be back.”

The most important returning player will be quarterback Te’Sean Smoot, who has thrown 44 touchdown passes the last two seasons. He’ll be a senior next fall.

“Next year, we’ll be just as good as this year,” Smoot said. “We’re coming back even stronger. Two years in a row making it to the final four and not being able to finish the mission — we’re only losing a few players — we’re going to come back and finish the mission for sure.”

In the final game of his junior season, Smoot completed 9 of 23 passes for 190 yards and rushed 23 times for 105 yards. He threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Brown to give Springfield a 10-3 lead in the second quarter, but Springfield settled for three field-goal attempts on other promising drives and made only one.

Those missed chances in the red zone offset the big turnover differential. Xavier threw four interceptions and lost a fumble, while Springfield didn’t commit any turnovers. A plus-five turnover margin will lead to victory on most days — but not this one.

“It hurts knowing we had this ballgame in our hands and just couldn’t execute,” Smoot said.

Two third-quarter scores in a two-minute span changed the game. St. Xavier cut Springfield’s lead to 10-9 on a 38-yard touchdown pass from Brogan McCaughey to Liam Clifford with 4:55 left in the third quarter. The Wildcats only led because of a bad snap on the extra point after the touchdown.

On the ensuing possession, Springfield made its only special-teams mistake on a punt. Xavier took over deep in Springfield territory and took the lead on a 21-yard field goal by Mason Rohmiller with 3:17 left in the third.

Springfield’s last and best chance to regain the lead came after an interception by Delian Bradley, who had two picks and a fumble recovery, set the Wildcats up with a first down on the Xavier 21-yard line. With 8:42 left, Cole Yost’s 29-yard field-goal attempt was blocked.

It would have been a 24-yard attempt if not for a false-start penalty on the previous play. Springfield was penalized 10 times for 95 yards. The last penalty helped Xavier extend its final drive. It was almost able to run out the clock in the final minutes, leaving just six seconds for Springfield to attempt one pass play from its own 33-yard line.

Xavier held on for its seventh victory in eight state semifinal appearances. It has won three state championships and will face two-time champion Pickerington Central at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at Fortress Obetz on the south side of Columbus.

St. Xavier coach Steve Specht praised Springfield after the game.

“They’re a great defense,” he said. “They have a lot of speed in the back end, and they were really physical up front. I think coach Douglass does an unbelievable job with those kids. They played their hearts out, and those kids play it the right way. They play fast and hard.”

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