BOWLING GREEN — The underdog Clyde Fliers pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the Ohio football playoffs Friday night, knocking off second-ranked Central Catholic 42-41 in a Division III regional final at Doyt Perry Stadium.
Fliers quarterback Tim Hoppe, who was 13 of 34 passing for 367 yards and five touchdowns, connected with Derek Gray on a 74-yard scoring pass with 3:27 remaining to tie the game, and Austin Baker’s extra-point kick proved to be the game-winning point.
PHOTO GALLERY: Clyde vs. Central Catholic
“All week we believed in ourselves, and we knew we’d have to come out here and play a very clean, [mistake-free] game,” Hoppe said. “We executed. Central came at us hard, but our guys up front did an awesome job for me.
“I thought I overthrew Derek Gray [on the winning TD], but he saves me every time. He made a heck of a play, and we got it.”
It was Gray’s third TD catch of the game, and the lead for Clyde (12-1) held up, even after Central (12-1) drove to the Fliers’ 4-yard line.
Central’s standout quarterback DeShone Kizer scrambled for a five-yard gain on third-and-7, but he was spun around and hit hard at the 4, and the Fliers recovered his fumble there.
Clyde was able to run out the clock when Damien Coburn gained a first down at the 15 with less than 30 seconds to play, and the Fliers’ celebration was on.
“Our kids just flat out laid it on the line, and they have since day one,” first-year Clyde coach Ryan Carter said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t overestimate heart.
“Our kids have heart, and they fought to the very end. It was a great victory for our team and our community. They just believed, and our skill [position] guys made plays.”
The biggest came from Gray.
“We knew we had some one-on-one coverage, and we thought we could beat them one-on-one, with all four of our receivers,” Gray said.
“Tim [Hoppe] was able to buy some time, and I just made a catch and took off as fast as I could.”
Irish running back Paul Moses carried 29 times for 153 yards and scored five TDs in the defeat, which snapped Central’s 17-game winning streak.
The loss ended Central’s bid for a second straight state championship. The Irish went 14-1 last season en route to a Division II state title.
Kizer was 21 of 38 passing for 217 yards and rushed 15 times for 127 yards.
“I never saw this day coming with this senior class,” Kizer said. “To think this is the last time I’m ever going to play with these guys is tough. You never really expected it to end this way.
“I guess we learn from things like this. This isn’t the end of the world. Life goes on. I’m proud of all my teammates, and it was an honor to play with them.”
Central had gone ahead 41-35 on Moses’ fifth TD, a nine-yard run with 3:27 to play. But Irish placekicker Patrick Schommer missed wide left on the subsequent PAT kick to leave the Fliers an opening.
On the play before the game-winning TD catch by Gray, Hoppe was nearly intercepted. But Irish linebacker Chris Green was unable to hang onto the football.
“That was a great coaching job and a great effort by their kids,” Central coach Greg Dempsey said of Clyde. “Everybody told them they were outgunned, and that’s what the playoffs are about.
“Games aren’t won on predictions, and they’re not won on rankings. Clyde came out and played a great game, did everything they had to do, and answered every time.”
In a stunning start, the big-play Fliers jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead, and took a 28-21 edge to halftime.
Hoppe completed just seven of his 16 first-half passes, but he threw for 205 yards and four TDs.
The Irish tied the game at 21 with just 34 seconds left in the half on a three-yard TD pass from Kizer to Jermiah Braswell. But Clyde’s Blake Miller returned the ensuing kickoff to his 42, and then Hoppe hit Gray on a 58-yard TD for a 28-21 Fliers lead with 16 seconds left in the half.
Amazingly, Central trailed despite dominating the time of possession in the first two quarters, 18 minutes and 26 seconds to just 5:34 for Clyde.
Miller got the Fliers’ first score on a 31-yard TD catch, and Gray put them up 14-0 just 4:19 into the game on a 22-yard scoring catch.
After Central tied the game 14-14 on a TD runs of 9 and 3 yards by Paul Moses, Coburn put the Fliers back up by taking a screen pass 66 yards for a TD with 8:04 left in the half.
“I told our kids that we just had to beat [Central] on one night,” Carter said. “If we play them 10 times, they might get us nine. But we only had to beat them on one night, and tonight was our night.”