High school football: Xenia edges Tipp in Miami Valley League showdown

XENIA – Maurice Harden needed his offense to produce a scoring drive in the fourth quarter to preserve Xenia’s unbeaten season. So he looked at his play sheet and called the plays his team executes best.

Power running with 6-foot, 220-pound Trei’Shaun Sanders and, when he needed it most, the ball in playmaking wide receiver Tremmell Wright’s hands. And the big offensive line of Gabe Funk, Ryland Falvey, Kaleb Martin, Gunnar Stephan, Landon Butler and tight end Jackson Tate led the final march to victory.

And what a march it was.

The Buccs (6-0) covered 90 yards in 20 plays starting with 10:13 left, converted three fourth downs and scored on Gavin McManus’ 10-yard touchdown pass to Wright with 51 seconds left to knock off Tippecanoe 27-22 in a battle of Miami Valley League unbeatens.

“The line got a good block, my quarterback delivered it, caught it, touchdown,” Wright said. “We needed to beat this team to win our conference. We didn’t win it yet, but we’re on the road to winning it.”

Wright’s score came on third-and-goal. If the Buccs hadn’t scored, Harden said he probably would have kicked a field goal. But Wright caught the ball at the 2-yard line and shimmied between two defenders.

“We felt that we had a really great play called and a great matchup,” Harden said. “It’s our best player against theirs. We decided No. 7 is special so we would go ahead and let him be special. We got a look that we wanted, too, so that helped.”

Xenia, ranked No. 5 in Division II and first in the Region 8 playoff points, jumped out to a 20-0 lead behind the running of Sanders and Ramon Browder. Tipp (5-1) scored late in the first half of Cael Liette’s one-yard run and had a chance to score again. But Browder blocked Jackson Kleather’s 35-yard field goal attempt on a first-down play. Tipp recovered at the line of scrimmage and got a second chance with one second left. But the snap was bobbled and the holder was smothered.

The third quarter was all Tipp, and put Xenia in an adverse situation for the first time this season. Xenia lost two fumbles, failed to cover a Tipp onside kick and watched Tipp tie the score on Kleather field goals of 29 and 47 yards and a two-yard run by Liette. Then with 55 seconds left in the quarter, Tipp blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety and a 22-20 lead.

“I’m super proud of how we responded when things weren’t going our way,” Harden said. “That last drive was a character drive.”

Tipp coach Matt Burgbacher also liked the character his team showed in coming back from a 20-point deficit.

“It’s not a one game season, and we’re going to be back,” he said. “I’ve got so much pride in these boys and what they just did. That’s a really good football team and we battled for 48 minutes.”

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