FINDLAY — The two top teams in Division IV actually exceeded expectations in a regional championship showdown on Friday night.
No. 1 ranked Kenton held off a formidable second-ranked Bryan 46-43 in a terrifically entertaining contest game that featured 10 lead changes.
The D-IV regional final at Donnell Stadium featured a clash of determined and athletic senior quarterbacks as Bryan's Austin Schimmoeller exchanged blows with Kenton's Grant Sherman.
Schimmoeller finished with 515 yards of total offense, including 370 passing, and accounted for five touchdowns. Sherman amassed 563 total yards, including 486 passing, and accounted for seven scores.
PHOTO GALLERY: Bryan vs. Kenton
Kenton (13-0) had never trailed this season but Bryan (12-1) held four leads in the game.
The Golden Bears, who had already knocked off two undefeated teams, trailed 40-37 with a little more than five minutes. Schimmoeller, who rushed for a game-high 145 yards, scored on a 11-yard TD keeper to give his team a 43-40 lead with 1:18 left.
Sherman drove his team 70 yards on seven passes and the Wildcats scored the game-winning TD with 21 seconds left as he tossed a 11-yard strike to Justin Sawmiller.
Bryan had just one timeout and drove to midfield. Schimmoeller's last second heave was completed at the 20 but time expired on the most successful season in Bryan history.
“This was the best game in Ohio tonight,” Schimmoeller said. “We both battled to the very end. They had the ball with the last possession. So hats off to Kenton. It's disappointing but I can't be unsatisfied. I'm happy with how we played.”
Bryan coach Kevin Kline said his only regret was leaving too much time on the clock for Kenton, which had 585 yards of offense.
"You always want a few more clicks on the clock," he said. "But I'm not disappointed with our effort. I think they left everything out there and when you do that your emotions come to the forefront when it's over. When they look back at it they can say they gave it their best shot.”
Both teams played at an incredibly fast pace. Kenton used a hurry up, five-wideout formation.
Bryan was down by four and faced a fourth and goal at the Kenton 3 with 6:15 left. Schimmoeller fumbled at the goal line but Sean Culler recovered it for a TD for a 37-34 lead.
Kenton scored just 1:08 later on Sherman's 24-yard pass to Luke Jackson as the Wildcats went up 40-37 with 5:06 to go.
The Golden Bears were behind 20-10 at the half. Senior wideout Brandon Poncsak made a brilliant one-handed catch and took it 55 yards for a score as Bryan pulled within 20-17.
Schimmoeller hooked up with Poncsak on a 60-yard TD as Bryan took a 23-20 lead. Poncsak, who finished with team-high six catches for 145 yards, broke a tackle during the run.
“The offensive line gave me enough time to make the plays and my receivers caught every pass tonight,” said Schimmoeller, who completed 26 of 34 passes.
Kenton took the lead back on a two-yard TD pass from Sherman on fourth and goal at the Bryan 2 as the Wildcats led 28-23 with 3:08 left in the third.
Bryan went back on top by one point on a 21-yard TD pass from Schimmoller to Sean Culler (eight catches for 81 yards) late in the third.
Kenton coach Mike Mauk, who led the the Wildcats to state titles in 2000 and 2001, had high praise for Bryan, which racked up 543 yards.
“They are outstanding,” Mauk said. “That's as good of a football team that we've played against in a long time. We thought we had a good defense but they went up and down the field. You have to give them a lot of credit.”
The Golden Bears trailed 20-10 at the half but they outscored the Wildcats 19-8 in the third to take a 29-28 lead going to the fourth quarter.
Derek Knisely had six catches for 88 yards. Dakota McNany, the Golden Bears' senior cornerback, recovered a fumble and picked off a pass.
“It's rough,” Schimmoeller said. “We have 19 seniors and every single one of them played their hearts out. It hurts right now but 10 to 20 years from now we'll look back and say how proud we are of each other. It's all over now and we won't play with each other ever again so it really hurts.”
The Golden Bears fell behind early but took a 7-6 lead Schimmoeller's nifty 36-yard TD run.
Bryan went up 10-6 on Andrew Rupp's 25-yard field goal with 1:49 left in the first quarter.
“I think you saw two really good teams,” Kline said “Kenton has a very good chance to make it to the finals.”
Behind the passing of Sherman, Kenton scored 14 unanswered points in the second quarter.
“How good are those two quarterbacks?,” Kline said. “As a whole you saw some really good athletes out here and that's what made it so enjoyable.
"If I'm a fan watching from the stands, that's a great high school game to see.”