XENIA — Facing fourth downs as the fourth quarter clock ticked away, Xenia’s offense pushed the pedal to the floor each time.
It paid off in thrilling fashion.
The Bucs completed a 20 play, 90-yard drive with a Gavin McManus touchdown pass to Tremell Wright, propelling Xenia to a 27-22 comeback victory over Tippecanoe at Doug Adams Stadium.
Trailing by two, Xenia began the winning drive with 10:13 remaining and used up all but the final 51 seconds while converting fourth and short plays on three different occasions.
“When you get in situations like this, you have two ways of dealing with it,” head coach Maurice Harden said. “You’re either going to fold under the pressure or you’re going to rise to the occasion and take it a play at a time and we did exactly that tonight.”
The game was a battle between the final two undefeated teams in the Miami Valley League at 5-0, as well as two squads ranked in the top-5 of the state AP poll in their respective divisions.
Xenia ran 13 straight plays, feeling as if they could not be stopped according to McManus, during the long drive before encountering a fourth-and-three situation at Tipp’s 12-yard line. Rather than kicking a short field goal with just over two minutes remaining, Xenia opted to keep the offense on the field and McManus threw a pass to Jackson Tate right at the first down line.
“We just liked the look that we had which we felt like was one that was advantageous for us,” Harden said on the decision to pass up the field goal attempt. “We went ahead and took our shot.”
Afterward the conversion and facing third and goal, Xenia went with a run-pass-option play, faking the handoff and throwing to Wright short of the goalline. He powered his way through defenders to stretch into the endzone.
“It felt great,” Wright said. “I got a good block and my quarterback delivered it.”
“We had just been running it down and near the goalline got a good play and we knew they would be going to bite on the run,” McManus said. “We thought the slant would be open and we did it.”
Tipp had 45 seconds to try and answer, but a fourth down hook and lateral attempt came up short of the first down line to end the game and send the crowd of nearly 4,000 home happy.
“Just them being able to persevere and push through it, man winning is hard,” Harden said. “To be able to have that kind of adversity and respond in a positive like we’ve always talked about to keep fighting, we did it tonight.”
Xenia scored the first 20 points of the game and lead by 13 at halftime, but the second half was anything but smooth sailing leading to the winning score.
Tipp kicked a field goal on its first possession of the half, and was able to recover a fumble on the kickoff. A touchdown from two yards cut the Xenia lead to three.
After a penalty, Tipp kicked from Xenia’s 45 and went for an onside kick that it recovered. It led to a tying field goal.
Xenia finally got a chance on offense, but fumbled it away after crossing midfield. Then on its next possession, Tipp blocked a punt out of the endzone to take its first lead of the game at 22-20.
It was the first time in 17 quarters Xenia had trailed.
“We just had to keep pushing through because we know things aren’t always going to go our way,” McManus said. “It can be a roller coaster game and we’ll have ups and downs, but we just got to make sure that during those downs we’re going to get back up.”
“We got a couple of stops but we couldn’t get that key one on fourth down,” Tipp head coach Matt Burgbacher said.
Trei’Shaun Sanders had 31 carries and 190 yards with a touchdown to lead Xenia’s rushing game. McManus was 14 of 17 throwing for 122 yards.
Trent Smith had four of the six pass breakups by the Xenia defense to shut down the deep passing threat from Tipp. Ronnie Butler made a team high 11 tackles, while Jamell Smith added two and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Xenia powered its way to a pair of early touchdowns on their first two drives of the game. McManus completed a 15 play, 80-yard opening drive with a one-yard sneak. Ramon Browder followed on a two-yard score to complete another 80-yard march. The Bucs outgained Tipp 121-6 in the opening quarter.
Tipp got across midfield on its next drive, but Smith forced a fumble and Sanders recovered. Two plays into Xenia’s ensuing drive, Sanders ran 38 yards for the third rushing touchdown of the first half and gave the Bucs a 20-0 lead.
Right before halftime, Tipp got a 42-yard run by Liam Poronsky to set up a 35-yard field goal attempt. Browder along with Wright blocked the kick, but Tipp recovered in the neutral zone and got another chance with one second on the clock. It still did not work out as the holder could not corral the snap and was tackled before the kick could be attempted.
Xenia improves to 6-0 after defeating the No. 2 ranked team in Division III and now sits atop the MVL standings alone.
“It’s amazing,” Wright said. “It means a lot. We needed this, we needed to beat this team to win our conference. We didn’t win it yet, but we’re 6-0 and on the road to winning it.”
Contact Steven Wright at 937-502-4498 and follow on Twitter @Steven_Wright_.