Fairborn falls in playoffs, looks ahead to future


CLAYTON — The postgame speech from Fairborn head coach Larry Cox focused on the fact only one team is typically happy at the end of the postseason.

Check out more photos from Friday’s game.

The Skyhawks weren’t victorious on Friday, but a case could be made they certainly still have many reasons to be happy.

Fairborn entered the record books as an OHSAA football playoff participant for the first time ever. Rudely awaiting them in the Division II playoffs was Northmont, a school which has for years been a steady presence at the D-I level and moved down a division this season. The Thunderbolts offense had its way in a 35-0 win at home to advance in the Region 8 bracket.

It wasn’t the script Fairborn hoped for once they arrived, but getting this far was something to celebrate.

“It was big for everyone to be the first to make it to the playoffs,” Dez Mata said. “It’s a big thing. We had a chance my freshman year and it got dropped. To come back senior year and be the first it’s so great.”

During the 2020 season, Fairborn got into the postseason along with all OHSAA schools due to the shortened schedule stemming from COVID-19, but the Skyhawks were unable to participate from an outbreak on the team.

The OHSAA decided to expand the playoffs from 8 to 16 teams in every region the following season, but Fairborn continued to be on the outside looking in after combining to win three times during the last two years.

In 2023, the Skyhawks became the comeback kids with three wins coming with trailing in the final three minutes and earned their way in for the first time ever.

“We took some positive steps, and it was great to get to the playoffs,” Cox said. “But we still got a ways to go. I’m still so proud of these seniors because they set a new standard. Last year’s group started the standard of my expectations and this group carried it a step forward.”

The step forward starts with looking across to the opposite sideline, according to Cox.

Fairborn got to feel how the playoffs are different from any other week of the season against Northmont.

Big plays helped the Thunderbolts score early and often in the opening quarter to pull away quickly. A 58-yard run on the first play from scrimmage came after a punt return returned for a score was called back for a penalty. That led to Northmont (7-4) scoring on a 15-yard run for a 7-0 lead.

A 20-yard passing score came immediately after a Fairborn fumble on its next possession, and another followed later on from 31 yards out to quickly made it 21-0.

Fairborn (4-7) got into the red zone for the first time roughly midway through the second quarter, aided by a fourth-and-1 conversion followed by a 22-yard run by Jay Kidd.

J. T. Smith got Fairborn down to the 4 where the Skyhawks elected to try a field goal. The attempt was blocked to keep Fairborn off the scoreboard.

Just before halftime, the Skyhawks defense got its first stop at its own 1 with a fumble recovery to conclude three straight stands inside the 5. Northmont used all of its timeouts to get the ball back after a three-and-out, and proceeded to throw a 43-yard touchdown to make it 28-0.

“In the playoffs everyone is good,” Cox said. “Northmont plays teams like Centerville and Wayne that’s really good teams and they know how to give you problems. At the same time, that’s where we want to get to, and now they can envision something to aspire to reach and will be our message all offseason.

“We got there. Now let’s do something with it when get there.”

Cox has seen plenty of good teams in his 28 seasons. He has plenty of experience and understanding of what it takes to consistently be good year after year.

It’s something Fairborn is just scratching the service of, but one that he has players buying into the work which needs to be done.

“As long as the underclassmen trust in coach Cox, this program will be in good hands,” Smith said. “He has taken this program a long way since he’s came in. We went from 1-9 to doubling wins every year.”

And that success led Fairborn somewhere they never have reached before in the postseason.

As the Skyhawks look ahead to 2024, they can now look at it as a place they hope to become more familiar with in the future.

“This still feels good knowing that we got there,” Smith said. “It’s like building a tower. We got to set the foundation, and now we can expect Fairborn to be in the playoffs for many more years to come.”

See all of the Greene County football results from the first round of the OHSAA playoffs.

Check out more photos from Friday’s game.

Contact Steven Wright at 937-502-4498 and follow on X (formerly Twitter) @Steven_Wright_.

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