One of Joe Burrow’s first great comebacks came against area school

SPRINGFIELD — One of the first great comeback victories of Joe Burrow’s career came against one of Clark County’s most decorated programs.

In 2012, the then-Athens High School sophomore quarterback rallied his Bulldogs team from a 13-point fourth quarter deficit to beat Shawnee High School 36-35 in a D-III, Region 12 semifinal game at Hamilton Twp. High School. It was Athens’ second playoff victory in school history and the closest playoff game of Burrow’s high school career.

Ten years later, the kid from Athens — already a national champion and Heisman Trophy winner at LSU — engineered an 18-point comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game to lead the Cincinnati Bengals into Super Bowl LVI.

“I wasn’t rooting for him in 2012,” said Shawnee High School coach Rick Meeks, “but I’m rooting for him now.”

ExploreLooking back: Burrow rallies Athens past Shawnee

In the 2012 playoff game against Shawnee, Burrow went 23-for-42 for 279 yards and three touchdowns through the air and rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

Shawnee trailed 22-21 at the half, but stormed back to take a 35-22 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter when J.D. Davis scored on a 1-yard run.

“I was glad we were up 13 at that point, but I wasn’t comfortable because we knew what they had,” Meeks told Springfield News-Sun contributing writer Jeff Gilbert in his game story.

Six minutes later, the Bulldogs led 36-35. Burrow threw a 6-yard TD pass to cut the lead to six points with about 10 minutes remaining. After forcing Shawnee to punt, Burrow and the Bulldogs drove 82 yards, including a 42-yard run by teammate Trae Williams that led to a 1-yard TD run on the next play.

In his final high school game, then-Shawnee senior Alex McCrory rushed for 86 yards and two TDs, caught another touchdown pass, intercepted a pass and a sack for the Braves. Shawnee sacked Burrow four times in the game.

“We did sack (Burrow) a few times,” said McCrory, who played collegiately at Dartmouth and now lives in Boston. “I’m sure a few of those guys are feeling pretty good about themselves having sacked a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.”

McCrory remembered Burrow being “very calm, cool and collected” on the field, even as a sophomore.

“Now, he’s Joe Cool,” McCrory said. “You could see it then.”

Credit: Barbara J. Perenic

Credit: Barbara J. Perenic

Entering the game against Shawnee, Athens was coming off its first playoff win in school history. Bulldogs coach Nathan White, who served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2011 to 2018, remembers the team, especially Burrow, making a point to not be happy with advancing to Week 12, but to keep the playoff run going.

Athens knew it faced a tough task against Shawnee. In 2011, the Braves advanced to the D-III state championship game, falling to Youngstown Cardinal Mooney 21-14.

“To be honest, we put on the tape and Shawnee was really good,” White said. “We knew we were going to have to play great to win.”

After recently rewatching the game film, White said Burrow played great in the game, but one play in particular stood out. Late in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs intercepted a pass on their own 1-yard line and on the next play, Burrow completed a pass to convert a key first down. A few plays later, Athens entered victory formation to run out the clock.

“Looking back, it’s funny that we threw a five-yard out from our minus-1 yard line and trusted a 15-year-old to make that play and win the game for us,” White said. “At the time, we didn’t think about it at all. After the game, I remember thinking that might have been the biggest play he made that night.”

Meeks has been longtime friends with Joe Burrow’s father, Jim Burrow, a former Ohio University assistant football coach who recruited the area for years. Meeks’ daughter, Katie, later worked for Burrow in the football office at Ohio University.

After the game in 2012, Meeks told Jim Burrow: “It won’t be long that it’s not going to be Jimmy Burrow’s boy — it’s going to be ‘Hey, there’s Jimmy, Joe Burrow’s Dad’.”

Meeks is planning to watch the film of the Athens playoff game with his son, T.J., before the Super Bowl. They attended two Bengals games earlier this season, he said.

“It’s awesome,” Meeks said. “They were predicted for three wins by Sports Illustrated at the beginning of the season and nobody knew how Joe’s knee was going to hold up and here they are (in the Super Bowl). It’s awesome, great for the area.”

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