Instant Classic: Central Catholic Captures State Title In Final Seconds, Tops Athens

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If you would have told the Athens Bulldogs they would score 52 points, put up 563 yards of total offense and lose a game, the team would probably think you are crazy.

On Thursday night, that happened as the Bulldogs fell to the Toledo Central Catholic Fighting Irish in the OHSAA Division III State Championship Game in a heartbreaking 56-52 loss.

The Bulldogs had plenty of chances throughout the game to put away the Fighting Irish, but the Irish were just too good, especially on the final drive.

The Irish converted on three separate fourth down conversions on that final drive, including a 4th & 8 from their own 31-yard line, which they converted on a spectacular sideline catch from receiver Jermiah Baswell for an 11-yard gain.

However, the one the Bulldogs will look back on was the final conversion.

With 24 seconds remaining in the game and the Bulldogs winning 52-49, the Fighting Irish faced a 3rd & 1 from the Athens 8-yard line. Central Catholic’s quarterback Marcus Winters took the snap, rolled to his left and threw a pass to the receiver in the end zone, one that was nearly intercepted by the Bulldogs’ Trae Williams to seal a win.

Now facing a 4th & 1, the Fighting Irish went back to their bread-and-butter as Winters took the snap, ran to his left, broke a tackle and waltzed into the end zone for the game-clinching touchdown.

“We failed to stop a simple sweep and they scored,” senior Ryan Luehrman said after the game. “That’s it.”

The Bulldogs’ defense had its issues stopping the Fighting Irish’s offense all game long, specifically the running attack.

The Fighting Irish finished the game with 59 rushes for 501 yards on the ground, with the bulk of those yards coming from sophomore Michael Warren, who carried the ball 28 times for 197 yards and three touchdowns.

“We just couldn’t get a stop,” senior linebacker Bryce Graves said. “We needed one stop and couldn’t do it.”

Offensively, the Bulldogs put on a show as well.

Quarterback and Ohio’s Mr. Football Joe Burrow completed 26-45 pass attempts for 446 yards and six touchdowns, which set a new record for touchdown passes in a Division III title game (three was previous record). Burrow also added 69 rushing yards on 10 carries, including a long of 54 yards from the first drive of the game.

However, the one statistic that will linger with Burrow the most: an interception.

After throwing only one interception in his previous 14 games, Burrow threw one that possibly changed the course of the game.

With just over one minute left in the third quarter and the Bulldogs leading 31-28, the Bulldogs defense had stalled the Fighting Irish offense, forcing a 32-yard field goal attempt which hooked wide left, giving Athens the ball back and a chance to add to a lead.

Instead, on the Bulldogs second play of that possession, Burrow lofted a pass a little too much over the middle, allowing a Fighting Irish defender to step in front and secure the pick.

“That [interception] will be the only thing I’ll be thinking about for a while,” Burrow said.

It especially hurt because on the Fighting Irish’s first play after getting the ball back, Tre’von Wade ran 40-yards for a touchdown to put the Irish back on top 35-31, swinging the momentum back into their favor.

But overall, what will haunt the Bulldogs for a while–and what has haunted them for much of the season–was the lack of success on point-after and two-point conversion tries.

All in all, the Bulldogs missed blocked extra point and failed on three two-point conversion attempts, and if you’re scoring at home, those were the difference in the game.

With the game finished, and the trophies handed out, the Bulldog players were very emotional with the realization of careers ending hitting some senior players.

But Athens coach Ryan Adams was almost the opposite, as he showed a small smile following the game.

“This year we lined up and we totally looked like we belonged,” Adams said. “That’s a tribute to all [the players’] hard work and effort that was put in this offseason. I’m a former Bulldog, so it hits close to home to see them go out and take this program to the level of success that they have, I couldn’t be any prouder of them. “