Trailing 28-7 on the road against a No. 1 seed, Wayne coach Jay Minton knew his team wouldn’t pack it in.
The Warriors’ wild comeback attempt fell short, though, as Hilliard Davidson prevailed 28-21 on Friday night in a Division I, Region 3 quaterfinal.
The game played out more like a matchup of two long-time powerhouse programs than a typical 1 vs. 8 first-round contest — because that’s exactly what it was.
While Wayne has played in four Division I state championship games since 1999, Hilliard Davidson claimed big-school crowns in 2006 and ’09.
“You know when you’re in the playoffs in the state of Ohio, you better be ready to play teams like this,” Minton said. “Sometimes you’re gonna be successful, sometimes you’re not.”
Minton called the Wildcats’ ground-oriented offense “a machine” and said their film looked just like it did in three previous matchups between the programs — Wayne victories at Welcome Stadium in 2010 and 2015 and a Davidson win in 2013.
They lived up to the hype, rumbling for 378 yards (194 from tailback Jordan Hicks) and controlling the ball for most of the first three quarters.
Two passing yards were all the Wildcats needed… barely.
Senior quarterback Rashad McKee led Wayne to a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including an 18-yarder to Justin Harris with 12 seconds left, but Davidson was able to run out the clock after the Warriors recovered an onside kick before it went the necessary 10 yards.
“They’ve kind of been like a cardiac team, but I’m just proud of ‘em,” Minton said. “They’re fighters. I told them in there I hope they fight like that in the game of life, and if they do, then what we’ve done is successful.”
McKee finished 17-for-21 passing for 287 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 77 yards.
Devin Nelson ran for 118 yards and a touchdown while also catching a 30-yard score in the fourth quarter.
In between the TD catches by Nelson and Harris, Wayne had another drive that ended on downs at the Davidson 10-yard line when Steven Victoria was ruled out of bounds trying to haul in a reverse pass from Cameron Fancher.
“We knew we would fight to the end,” Minton said. “We talked about it at halftime. No matter what happened, the outcome would be the second half. We fight to the end, and if that’s not good enough, we deal with it. I think they did fight to the end.”
Wayne struck first on a 9-yard touchdown run by Nelson with 5:34 left in the first quarter. That capped a 90-yard touchdown drive by the Warriors that came after they recovered a fumble deep in their own territory.
The Wildcats responded with a 65-yard scoring drive capped by a Hicks 20-yard run in which he appeared to hurdle a defender near the line of scrimmage before sprinting into the end zone.
After intercepting McKee on the next drive, the Wildcats again fed Hicks extensively en route to the go-ahead score, an 8-yard touchdown run by Hicks. The PAT put Hilliard Davidson on top 14-7 with 9:10 left in the second quarter.
Both teams drove into the red zone one more time before the end of the half only to come up empty.
The Wildcats dominated the third quarter, extending the lead to 28-7, then had to hang on.