Eleven years after Springfield High School opened its doors, six years after its second straight one-win season and five years after Maurice Douglass coached his first game with the program, the Wildcats hoisted a regional championship trophy at London High School.
» PHOTOS: Wildcats vs. Shamrocks
A 1-yard touchdown run by sophomore quarterback Te'Sean Smoot in the third quarter was all Springfield needed to beat Dublin Coffman 7-3 on Friday and earn the first state final four berth in school history. Now the Wildcats have their eyes on a bigger prize.
"Two more!" one player said in the post-game huddle.
Two more victories would give Clark County its first state football championship. Catholic Central played in the final four twice and was state runner-up in 1991. Shawnee reached the championship game in 2011, losing to Youngstown Cardinal Mooney.
The fifth-ranked Wildcats (12-1) will play No. 8 Cincinnati Elder (11-2), which beat Colerain 28-21 on Friday, at a site to be announced.
"It means a lot," Smoot said. "This is the first time ever any Springfield team has been to Week 14. Coach (Douglass) preaches all the time to just buy in. Every day we come to practice and buy in, and it shows on the field. I'm proud of my brothers."
Springfield was the top seed in Division I, Region 2 and routed Marysville and Dublin Jerome by a combined score of 60-14 in the first two rounds.
Coffman, the No. 3 seed, proved to be a tougher challenge. The Shamrocks outgained Springfield 264-184 and held the Wildcats to 70 rushing yards, 137.9 below what it averaged in the regular season.
Penalties hampered both teams all night. Coffman committed eight penalties for a loss of 71 yards. Springfield was whistled six times for a loss of 50 yards.
Smoot completed 8 of 14 passes for 114 yards. Larry Stephens, who had four receptions for 66 yards, had a big catch on the one touchdown drive, and then a pass-interference penalty helped extend the drive.
Smoot's touchdown run with 5:03 left in the third quarter stood up because the Springfield defense dominated. Douglass praised defensive coordinator Conley Smoot, Te'Sean's dad. His defense stopped Coffman on third down eight of nine times and on all three fourth-down attempts.
"He does the best job of anybody I've seen of putting together a game plan," Douglass said. "It's so detail oriented."
"The defense always steps up when the offense starts slow in the first half," Te'Sean said. "They've got our backs.
Coffman's Casey Magyar kicked a 29-yard field goal in the first quarter. The Shamrocks didn't score again.
"It was just relentless effort," Douglass said. "I challenged them at halftime. You've got 24 minutes. Our defense said, 'We're going to go out there and get a stop on the first drive,' and they did that and just continued it the whole game."
The defense made plenty of big plays along the way. Jalen Minney forced a fumble, and Robert Holtz recovered it with under 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. It was the only turnover of the game.
With 3:16 left, Springfield stopped Coffman on 4th-and-2 from the Springfield 12-yard line. Coffman got the ball one more time but went three-and-out, and the Wildcats knelt on the ball to end the game.
Springfield and Elder join Pickerington Central and Mentor, who will meet in the other state semifinal. Springfield is the only team in the group making its first final four appearance.
Elder won state titles in 2002 and 2003. Mentor has finished as state runner-up four times but never won a championship. Pickerington Central won it all in 2017.
"It's huge," Douglass said. "You get to practice on Thanksgiving. I told them it's one of the best feelings in the world. You get to run around with your buddies in the morning and then be done by noon and go home to your family, and the next day, you're going to play somewhere. It's a special feeling, and I'm so happy for those kids and Springfield."
Thank you for reading the Springfield News-Sun and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Springfield News-Sun. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.