Central Catholic's De'Marko Criag Jr. (55) is consoled by teammate Matthew Griffin after a 16-7 loss to Trotwood-Madison in the state semifinals.
PIQUA — If Central Catholic was going to have a chance at upsetting top-ranked Trotwood-Madison in Friday night’s Division III state football semifinal, the Fighting Irish needed a superb effort on defense.
Central got that, except for one big play by the Rams late in the game.
Bottled up for most of the game, Trotwood’s All-Ohio running back Raveion Hargrove broke off a 77-yard touchdown run with 4:48 remaining, icing his team’s 16-7 victory at Piqua’s Alexander Stadium.
Before that play, the ever-dangerous Hargrove — who came in with 2,000 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns on the season — had been held to 47 yards on his first 17 carries, and Trotwood’s only previous points in the game had come off of Central special-teams miscues on two blocked punts.
“The defense showed up tonight,” said 18th-year Central coach Greg Dempsey, who has guided the Irish to three state championships since 2005. “Special teams decided the game, and a lot of penalties hurt us.
“The defense didn’t hurt us at all. They gave up one touchdown and people were counting on them giving up five tonight. They gave everything they had and played an awesome game.”
After the Irish (11-3) had grabbed a 7-0 lead on Jase Bowen’s 1-yard run around right end with 4:42 into the first quarter.
The Rams (14-0) blocked a Bowen punt and Taron Britt recovered in the end zone for a touchdown with 39 seconds left in the first.
Trotwood’s second punt block on Bowen resulted in a safety and a 9-7 lead with 6:32 left in the third quarter.
“The special-teams breakdowns killed us tonight,” Dempsey said. “Nine out of the 16 points — do the math. And, we’ve got to convert and finish some drives, which we didn’t do.
Central Catholic's Troy Durden-Scott Jr. (10) and Jase Bowen celebrate an early touchdown during Friday's state semifinal game.
“The little things add up in big games like this, especially against a team that’s that good.”
Hargrove finished with 127 yards on 21 carries.
These two teams have met five times in the past six years in the playoffs, with Central winning the first three, and Trotwood taking the last two.
The Irish beat T-M 16-12 in the 2012 Division II state championship game, then topped the Rams in the 2014 and 2015 D-III semifinals. An inspired Trotwood took some revenge last season, blanking Central 36-0 in a state semifinal played at Lima Senior.
Perhaps motivated by that lopsided loss, and looking for redemption, the Irish brought their A-game defensively.
The Rams came in averaging 52 points per game, and their offense managed just 235 yards and seven points in this game, which was not decided until Hargrove’s late touchdown run basically put the game out of reach for a Central offense that totaled 200 yards.
The Irish defense also kept the Rams’ standout quarterback, Markell Stephens-Peppers pretty much under wraps. He was 10-of-22 passing for 74 yards, and rushed 10 times for just 17 yards. He entered the game with 35 touchdown passes.
“We came to play tonight,” Dempsey said. “We gave them everything that they could handle, I think. I’m not big into moral victories, but we’re not leaving with any regrets in terms of our effort, and the passion we played with tonight.”
Central Catholic's Troy Durden-Scott Jr. finds running room during Friday's state semifinal game against Trotwood-Madison in Piqua. Central Catholic lost, 16-7.
The lone Irish scoring drive covered 48 yards on eight plays after Central gained possession after a short 23-yard punt by the Rams.
Irish quarterback Troy Durden’s runs of 10 and 3 yards were followed by Bowen’s 8-yard carry out of the wildcat formation to the Rams’ 1-yard line. He scored on the next play.
“Our seniors lived up to the expectations of our program, which are pretty high,” said Dempsey of his team’s fourth consecutive state semifinal advancement and fifth in six seasons. “Tonight stings, but this was a special season. I can’t be any prouder of the team.
“It wasn’t easy getting here compared to what it was the past couple years, and these guys grinded it out and still got us here. They gave us a chance to win tonight, and that’s all you can ask from a final-four game.”
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.