Norman rushed for a career-high 201 yards and two touchdowns, including a 76-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter that sealed a 37-24 victory over top-seeded Olentangy in a wild Division I, Region 2 semifinal game on Friday night at Hilliard Darby High School.
Springfield senior Aaron Scott scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns as the 12th-seeded Wildcats (8-5) won their fifth straight game. The Wildcats advanced to play sixth-seeded Dublin Coffman in the Region 2 final next Friday night at a site to be determined.
“This is what we’ve done all year, fighting through adverse situations,” Douglass said. “In the first half, things didn’t kind of go our way, but our kids kept battling, kept fighting knowing that the game is 48 minutes. I’m very, very proud of our guys, very proud of them.”
Springfield junior kicker Brayden Herron hit a 21-yard field on the first possession of the game to give the Wildcats an early 3-0 lead.
The Braves responded with a 10-yard TD pass from Penn State commit Ethan Grunkemeyer to Cincinnati commit Gavin Grover to make it 7-3. Olentangy got a short field thanks to a bad punt snap by the Wildcats but were forced to settle for a 21-yard field goal from kicker Matt Tobias to make it 10-3.
The Wildcats pulled to within one point midway through the second quarter. After a 57-yard run by sophomore Deontre Long, Springfield junior Brent Upshaw found senior Duncan Bradley III on a 14-yard TD pass to make it 10-9. Upshaw went 9-for-14 for 159 yards, while senior Da’Shawn Martin caught three key passes for 128 yards.
Olentangy took the lead right before the half on a 37-yard TD pass from Grunkemeyer to senior Zach Griffith. Grunkemeyer ran in the two-point conversion to give the Braves a 18-9 halftime lead.
Early in the fourth, Springfield junior Quenta Wafer, Jr. blocked a Braves punt, downing the ball inside their 20-yard line. A few plays later, Scott scored on a 5-yard run and Upshaw hit Martin on the two-point conversion attempt to cut the lead to 18-17.
The Braves responded with a 24-yard TD run by sophomore Andrew Wilber but missed the two-point conversion attempt to make it 24-17.
On the next possession, Upshaw hit Martin on a 50-yard pass, setting up a 5-yard run by Norman to tie the game at 24.
On the ensuing kickoff, Wafer recovered a squib kick, giving Springfield the ball inside the Olentangy red zone.
“(Wafer has) hit his stride in the playoffs,” Douglass said. “Last week he had two interceptions and tonight he made two big special teams plays. He fought for his brothers. He battled all night and came up with some big plays for our seniors.”
A few plays later, Scott scored on a 13-yard run to give the Wildcats their first lead since their opening drive.
After a three-and-out by the Braves, Norman responded with the biggest play of the game. The senior had watched film all week and knew he could cut back for big yardage.
“I knew the backside cut was going to be there, the jump cut,” Norman said.
He ran the ball through the right side of the line and cut back to the middle, sprinting for a 76-yard game-sealing TD run. Olentangy finished the season 11-2.
Watching from the sidelines, former Springfield South and Ohio State University wide receiver Dee Miller described Norman as “electrifying.”
The senior’s career night came when it mattered most, Douglass said.
“(Norman) said, ‘I got you coach’ and he went out there and did what we knew he was capable of,” he said, “and I’m just so proud of him.”
The Wildcats are back in the regional finals for the fifth straight season.
“We want to keep fighting and make it back to Canton,” Norman said.