St. Xavier’s Amazing Run Earns Third State FB Title


Posted on 12/3/2016 at 2:01 p.m.

Bombers Finish Improbable Postseason With Win over St. Ignatius

St. Xavier would have had it no other way – down 10-0 at halftime to a perennial state football power that had easily defeated the Bombers back in week nine of the regular season.  But Friday night, like every other Friday night during the Ohio High School Athletic Association Football Tournament, St. Xavier proved once again that it is a different team than the one that finished 5-5 during the regular season and needed a win in its final game to make a state playoff appearance.

Led by senior quarterback Sean Clifford, who had accounted for 10 touchdowns in the last three victories, St. Xavier rallied back and eventually left Ohio Stadium in Columbus with a 27-20 victory in double overtime over Cleveland St. Ignatius in the Division I state final.  The win capped a remarkable five-game winning streak in the postseason, a streak that included two victories in overtime and one in double OT, and come-from-behind rallies in its final four games to earn the school’s third state football title.

Coach Steve Specht’s team, which also won state crowns in 2005 and 2007, became the first school in Ohio high school history to win a state title after entering the postseason with five losses.  The Bombers’ title was the second in as many days for the Greater Catholic League South Division, as La Salle came back from a 7-0 halftime deficit Thursday night to defeat Massillon Perry, 14-7, and win the Division II state championship for the third consecutive year.

Victories by La Salle and St. Xavier extended the GCL South streak of winning state football titles to five straight years – with Moeller getting it started by winning DI state crowns in 2012 and 2013.  St. Xavier’s win came against a St. Ignatius team that was 11-1 in state finals, including two victories over the Bombers (in 1992 and 2001).  St. Ignatius defeated St. Xavier, 31-14, in week nine of the regular season at St. Xavier.

But, after opening the state playoffs by forcing five turnovers in a 35-14 road victory at Fairfield, St. Xavier wasn’t to be denied in the postseason.  The second week, the Bombers trailed No. 1 and unbeaten Colerain 23-7 with two minutes left in the third quarter before rallying for a stunning 29-23 win in OT.  The next game, in the regional final against Sycamore, St. Xavier was down 28-14 with just over two minutes left in the game before staging a comeback that culminated in a 35-28 victory in OT.

Then, in the state semifinals, St. Xavier needed another late rally to knock off Pickerington Central, 29-27, and earn another shot at St. Ignatius – which led 10-0 at halftime in the final after holding St. Xavier to just one first down and forcing the Bombers to punt on all seven of its first-half possessions.  But St. Xavier rallied in the third quarter, getting a field goal from senior Kevin Rockwood and a 22-yard TD pass from Clifford to junior Andrew Wittrock.

St. Xavier then managed to take a 17-10 lead on a fumble recovery in the end zone by Blake Bacevich with 6:49 remaining.  The Bombers looked to be in even better shape in the final minutes, after a defensive stand that left St. Ignatius needing a lengthy fourth-down conversion – which they would make, when quarterback Jake Ryan connected with Michael Drobnick on a 17-yard pass, and the ensu8ing extra point tied the game, 17-17, with 1:11 left.  St. Xavier had one final possession in regulation, but failed to score.

In OT, St. Ignatius kicked a field goal on its first possession.  The Bombers countered with a 29-yard field goal by Rockwood to tie the score, 20-20.  St. Xavier got the ball first in the second OT, and Clifford found Wittrock with a 7-yard TD pass, Rockwood converted the extra point and St. Xavier led, 27-20.  St. Ignatius got the ball, but was unable to score on its final possession – the final play an incomplete pass, and the St. Xavier celebration was on at Ohio Stadium.

The Bombers had their usual great support from fans, most noticeably from the school’s student body – most of whom spent a chilly night shirtless at Ohio Stadium making plenty of noise.  And, once the final play had ended and St. Xavier had realized one of the most memorable runs in state championship history, the celebration between football team and its fans began. 

Not a bad couple nights for two schools, La Salle and St. Xavier, located just a few miles apart on North Bend Road.  Not a bad season for the GCL South either.