XENIA — Despite a huge Xenia crowd, visiting Columbus Walnut Ridge took the bad with the good, and parlayed both into a 28-7 win over the host Xenia Buccaneers, Nov. 8 at Doug Adams Stadium.
“Good” field position for the Scots, and “Bad” mistakes by a Xenia squad that was making its first foray into the OHSAA’s high school football playoffs, since they were created in 1972, broke open what began as a very close high school football game.
“I’m proud of you guys. We made some mistakes, and they capitalized on them. That’s the way it works,” Xenia coach Trace Smitherman said to the team, moments after the loss. “You did what you needed to do to get here … all of you. You made history just being in this game. And yeah, we wanted it to be different. We wanted the score to be in our favor.
“But we’ll own it, and we’ll get better down the road. … And Seniors! I couldn’t ask for a better group. You are fan-freakin’tastic, and I’m very proud of your effort. Be proud of who you are!” Smitherman said, before sending the team to the lockerroom for more private words.
Xenia (9-2) got on the scoreboard first when senior defensive back Chris Jones picked up an interception and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown. Hayden Falvey booted the extra point, and the Bucs were out in front 7-0 with 9:33 left to play in the first half.
After forcing Xenia to go three plays and punt from the Bucs 35, Walnut Ridge (11-0) chugged through a 12-play, 61-yard drive that was capped with quarterback Howard Thornton’s run into the end zone from two yards out. Babucar Jawara drilled the extra point, and the game was tied with 31 seconds left in the half.
Ridge took the second-half kickoff and began play on its own 40-yard line. Again, they put together a solid drive. This time, the Scots took advantage of a pair of crucial Xenia penalties — one offsides call, and three plays later a pass interference call — to go 60 yards in 14 plays. Thornton hit tight end Kaveon Ross with a quick slant pass in the end zone from 10 yards out. Another Babucar extra point, and Walnut Ridge had the lead, 14-7.
Xenia’s first two possessions of the fourth quarter ended in disaster.
On the first one, the Bucs had converted a surprise pass play on fourth down and 13 yards to go that would’ve been a first down. But a Scots player hit the Bucs receiver from behind to cause a fumble, which was recovered by Walnut Ridge.
Ridge had to punt the ball away, but three plays later, Scots senior linebacker Marshawn Mankins deflected a pitchout between Xenia QB Brett Russell and a Bucs running back, and Ridge teammate Seven Harper fell on the fumble at the Xenia 22-yard line.
Five plays later, the Scots’ Antonio Felts scored from four yards away. The extra point then made it 21-7 in favor of No. 5 seeded Walnut Ridge.
Now in desperation mode, Xenia failed on a fourth-down try from its own 25-yard with less than five minutes left in the contest. Aided by a Xenia personal foul penalty, Walnut Ridge scored yet again. This time, it was Thornton keeping from a yard out. Another PAT and Ridge had the game wrapped up, 28-7.
“We made some mistakes early. We were doing some good things, and we just couldn’t overcome the mistakes, to be honest,” Smitherman said. “They’re a really good football team. We ran into a buzz saw somewhat. The score’s not really indicative of what the football game was, but it is what it is there. Our kids played their hearts out, and I appreciate what they have done and what the coaching staff has done to get us to where we are today.”
A large outpouring of support came from the Xenia community, with the home stands nearly packed full for the game. Just a small section reserved for the marching band was left empty when the game ended. Smitherman remained proud of his team, despite the mistake-filled loss.
“They played their hearts out. We got the most out of this group of of seniors. We’re a really really good football team, and they should be proud. They should be really proud of who they are, and what they did for this community. I can’t be happier.”
Contact John Bombatch at 937-372-4444, Ext. 2123.