One week ago Springfield walked off the turf at Evans Stadium wondering what went wrong. They had just lost 14-7 to Fairmont in a game they expected to win.
“Last week we came in and ‘it’s going to be a walk in the park’ because they got beat by Centerville the week before th at,” said Wildcats junior running back Tavion Smoot. “And they shocked us. This week we came to practice focused.”
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And this Friday night the Wildcats defeated Fairmont 19-14 for their first playoff victory since 2010. The defense stopped a frantic drive by the Firebirds on freshman safety Delian Bradley’s interception of a long halfback pass at the 3-yard line with two seconds left.
“We start grasping for things at that point,” said Fairmont coach Dave Miller, whose teams runs the triple-option and rarely throws a pass. “We practice them but it’s hard when your main focus is what we do. You just can’t let yourself get in that situation.”
Next up in Division I, Region 3 for the fourth-seeded Wildcats (9-2) is top-seeded Hilliard Davidson (10-1), a 28-21 winner over Wayne.
“I’m happy, but we’re not satisfied with this win,” senior quarterback RaHeim Moss said. “We’ve got more to go. We’ve to come in (Saturday) and watch film and see what we did good and what we did wrong. And then come in Monday and get ready for Hilliard Davidson.”
Fifth-seeded Fairmont (7-4) also beat Springfield in the final game of 2017 to keep the Wildcats out of the playoffs.
“They listened to their coaches and did what we told them to do,” Wildcats coach Maurice Douglass said. “They did a good job this week of focusing on the task at hand.”
Springfield’s defense stuck with some of the things in the first half that it did last week against Fairmont. But a 15-play touchdown drive and a big-play touchdown — a 38-yard touchdown run by Jesse Deglow — left the Wildcats trailing 14-13 at halftime. Douglass said they went to back to a more comfortable scheme in the second half, which led to three turnovers and three punts.
Springfield opened with a 14-play drive and overcame a third-and-30 situation to take a 7-0 lead on Smoot’s 5-yard run. Then Moss scored on a 59-yard touchdown run, but the extra point bounced off the left upright for a 13-7 lead. The Wildcats took the lead early in the fourth quarter after senior safety Moses Douglass forced a fumble recovered by TyAren Brown. Jeff Tolliver ran for 51 yards on the Wildcats’ next play to set up Smoot’s 12-yard touchdown run with 11:25 left in the game. Smoot rushed for 108 yards on 20 carries.
Miller had a long talk with his team after the game before going around the locker room to hug and encourage his 17 seniors.
“It’s gut-wrenching — hearts are breaking,” Miller said of those moments with each player, many of them second- and third-year starters. “But it has to come to end at some point. We didn’t like the way it ended, but we lost to a really good football team.”
In his third year, Miller led the Firebirds to consecutive playoff trips for the first time. Their only previous playoff appearance was in 2008.
“They established a legacy and have a lot to be proud of,” Miller said. “Hopefully these young guys can follow and take the mantle and move on with it.”