Max Westhoven, of the Napoleon Wildcats, runs the ball during the second quarter of their Division III playoff game against the Bryan Golden Bears at Gallagher Stadium in Toledo Saturday.
THE BLADE/ZACK CONKLE
A half yard decided the outcome of Saturday night's thriller between old rivals Napoleon and Bryan in a Division III regional semifinal at Central Catholic.
The distance represented how far Bryan quarterback Austin Schimmoeller was from the goal line when he was knocked out of bounds on a two-point attempt by Napoleon defenders Charlie Harris and Max Westhoven with 16.6 seconds remaining.
That stop allowed Napoleon to hold on for a 21-20 victory before approximately 5,000 fans who began filling up the stands more than an hour before kickoff.
The decisive play sent the Wildcats and their fans into a frenzy. Napoleon survived a late rally from a Bryan team that scored two late touchdowns, the second coming moments after the Golden Bears recovered an onside kick that led to the final scoring drive of the game.
"That onside kick, I didn't think they'd convert it because I thought they'd used up all their magic," Napoleon coach Tory Strock said. "But when you have a lot of really good players things like that happen.
"There's a reason they were 11-0 and No. 3 in the state of Ohio."
Nonetheless, the defensive stop by Harris and Westhoven brought about a huge sigh of relief on the Wildcats’ side of the field. Strock admitted he had already begun thinking about calling for a Hail Mary pass if Schimmoeller had scored on the two-point try for Bryan (11-1).
Napoleon (11-0-1) is heading to its first regional final game in team history and will face Bellevue.
"I'm so filled with emotions at this moment that I don't think it's really sunk in yet," Strock said. "You stop and think of all the great teams and players that have come through Napoleon and to be the first team to do this, I think it's monumental."
Schimmoeller's two-point conversion try came only moments after he had scored a touchdown on a 14-yard scramble to pull within a point of tying the score with only seconds left in the fourth quarter. Instead of sending place kicker Tory Savage out to kick the extra point to tie the score at 21-21, Bryan coach Kevin Kline and his players chose to go for the win.
"The bottom line was our kids and myself felt we had a chance to win it right there, so that's what we went for," Kline said. "We didn't come here to tie. We came here to win the game, and I thought that was our best chance to win it.
"So, we went for it and we just came up short."
The Wildcats had pulled away to take a 21-7 lead after the neighboring rivals went into halftime with the score tied at 7-7.
Napoleon led 14-7 when Wildcats quarterback David Yunker, who completed 7 of 12 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns, connected with Zach Fielder for an 11-yard touchdown completion with 2 minutes, 33 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats upped the lead early in the fourth on wideout Jordan Lauf’s 57-yard touchdown reception. Lauf, the 6-foot-5 University of Toledo basketball commitment, outjumped a Bryan defender and came down with Yunker's pass and raced to the end zone with 10:29 left.
"Our run game was successful and it set up the pass right there," Lauf said of his TD catch.
Wildcats running back Charlie Harris led the running attack by gaining 173 yards on 27 carries, including an 18-yard TD run.
The Wildcats struck first on their second possession, marching 78 yards on nine plays to lead 7-0.
It was a possession that weighed heavy on Harris' shoulders. In fact, the elusive tailback carried the football on every down, capping the drive with his TD scamper through the Bears' defense with 10:24 left in the second. Bryan scored before the half ended.
The Bears conducted a 14-play scoring drive that covered 84 yards with Schimmoeller scoring from four yards out on a quarterback keeper with 1:13 left until halftime.
The Wildcats and Bears went into the break locked in a 7-7 tie.
Schimmoeller finished the contest with 85 yards rushing, including three touchdowns, and 180 passing yards.
Contact Donald Emmons at: email@example.com, 419-724-6302 or on Twitter @DemmonsBlade