LIMA — Three playoff losses worth of frustration from the previous four seasons proved to be just too much for top-ranked Central Catholic to keep from exploding in Saturday night’s Division III state football semifinal against an inspired Trotwood-Madison team.
The 10th-ranked Rams (12-2) were looking for revenge, and they got it with a dominant 36-0 victory over Central at Lima Senior’s Spartan Stadium.
The Irish (13-1), who failed in their bid to reach a third straight D-III championship game, had beaten Trotwood 16-12 in the 2012 D-II state final, and 17-14 and 21-13, respectively, in the past two D-III semifinals.
IN PICTURES: Trotwood-Madison 36, Central Catholic 0
That was more than enough fuel to fire the Rams, who bolted to a 22-0 halftime lead and cruised into next Saturday’s title game at Ohio Stadium.
“That was four years of frustration in the making coming out all in on night,” Central coach Greg Dempsey said of the Rams’ performance. “Offensively, we just put our defense in some bad spots in that first half. We gave them a touchdown, and we were not able to get a first down.
“The defense held up well at the beginning, but there’s only so much you can do. Obviously, their coach did a much better job of getting their kids ready to play than I did.”
Trotwood-Madison will face third-ranked, defending champion Akron Hoban (13-1) in the 3 p.m. title game. Hoban advanced by beating second-ranked Columbus DeSales 23-14 in Saturday’s other D-III semifinal. Hoban beat Central 33-20 in last year’s final.
“Yes, it was frustrating because we did lose all of those games to them,” Rams coach Jeff Graham said. “But, outside of that, it’s a new season, so you’ve got to look at what we have new.
“Our guys prepared well and did a good job.
“Those [past losses] are history. We’re not looking at payback here. All we look at is this season, and this week our guys prepared hard, looked at a lot of film, and put in some extra work.”
By halftime, the stat sheet had to seem like an illusion to an Irish team that had outscored its first three playoff foes 116-20.
At the break, Trotwood had run 35 offensive plays, gained 230 yards and 12 first downs, and scored two touchdowns — on Raveion Hargrove’s 18-yard run and quarterback Markell Stephens-Peppers’ 31-yard TD pass to Dallas Daniels.
Those two second-quarter scores were preceded by Romello Michaels’ 70-yard return TD off an interception of Irish quarterback Torrin Campbell, which came just 3:30 into the game.
Even more stunning was Central’s offensive stat line at halftime — 24 plays, six total yards, and no first downs. The Irish punted seven times after three-and-outs, and the only possession not to end on a punt was the one that closed on Michaels’ pick-six.
“They’re a great defense,” Dempsey said. “That’s where they hang their hat. They’re very fast, very athletic, and they have good size. They’re able to play lock-down man coverage, and that’s what they did tonight. That way, they can commit to the box and get away with it.”
Michael Warren, who entered the game with 2,722 rushing yards and 45 TDs on the season, and 7,601 rushing yards and 105 TDs in his career, had 10 first-half carries for seven net yards. Campbell was 2-of-12 passing for three yards.
Warren closed with 18 yards on 15 carries, and Campbell 4-of-16 for 15 yards with two interceptions.
The Trotwood bomb blast was too big a hole for the Irish to climb out of over the final 24 minutes, most of which ticked off quicker because of the 30-point running-clock rule.
Hargrove (16 carries, 165 yards) opened the third quarter with a 76-yard TD run around left end. The subsequent conversion pass from Stephens-Peppers to Caleb Johnson made it 30-0, and began the running-clock rule just 15 seconds into the second half.
“This means a lot,” Hargrove said. “It lets us know all our hard work wasn’t wasted. Central Catholic is a good team and they know us very well. And we sure know them.
“Thanks to my O-line. It’s so surreal, I can’t believe it.”
The Rams, who never did take their foot off the accelerator, added a final TD on Mikey’ion Hunter’s one-yard plunge with 2:44 remaining in the game.
“You’ve got to give Central Catholic a lot of credit,” Graham said. “That’s a great program, and coach Dempsey had his guys ready to play. But our guys just came out and made some big plays for us.
“When you’re in this position, you’ve got to cherish it. You’ve got to leave a legacy. It’s not too often you come to the state semis, so finish. Have, fun, do your job, and let the outcome be the outcome.”
Trotwood closed with an eye-popping 374-40 edge in total offense in the game, with Stephens-Peppers adding an 8-of-19, 140-yard passing effort.
“It hurts, no doubt about it, and watching these kids hurt hurts even more,” Dempsey said. “But, what I’m going to tell the kids is, ‘If you ever have to apologize for being ranked No. 1 in the state and making the final four, that’s a bad situation.’
“They have given their all for Central Catholic, especially these seniors over the last three years,” Dempsey said. “They put us on the map statewide as a football program. We had a bad night, and there’s just no other way to say it.”
Since 2012, Central is 64-8 overall, including 19-3 in the playoffs, with two state titles and one runner-up finish.
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