Springfield’s second straight state semifinal appearance is ‘something special’

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Highlights: Springfield vs. Olentangy Liberty in D-I regional final on Oct. 30, 2020

Wildcats play St. Xavier at 7 p.m. Friday in Piqua

The Springfield Wildcats return to the “scene of the crime” on Friday. That’s how coach Maurice Douglass referred to Piqua’s Alexander Stadium, where his team lost 31-24 to Cincinnati Elder in the Division I state semifinals a year ago.

Springfield drove close to the red zone in the final minutes before stalling and falling short of becoming the third Clark County team to reach the state championship game.

It’s a loss that still stings, and Springfield gets a chance to erase some of the pain at 7 p.m. Friday when it returns to Piqua to play another Greater Catholic League South program: Cincinnati St. Xavier.

Once again, a state championship game appearance is on the line. While there won’t be near as many fans in the stadium Friday as there were last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, there’s still a buzz in the air in Springfield as the Wildcats chase history. No Clark County team has ever won a state championship, and Springfield is the first program from the county to reach the state semifinals in back-to-back seasons.

“The teachers and faculty and everyone here have supported us,” Douglass said. “People are excited about this opportunity. They’re going to have a big send-off for them on Friday. It’s something special.”

While a return to Piqua will bring back bad memories from last year, Douglass has experienced good times there as well, winning multiple games at the stadium during his years at Trotwood-Madison. He also knows the weather will be help his team. It was in the 30s last year. It will be in the 50s this year.

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Springfield (8-1) faces a program in St. Xavier (8-2) that is making its eighth final four appearance and has won three state championships (2016, 2007 and 2005). The winner will play Mentor or Pickerington Central in the state championship game on at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at Fortress Obetz on the south side of Columbus.

The Bombers have not lost to an Ohio team this season. They fell 30-24 in overtime to Brownsburg (Ind.) in Week 1 and 25-22 to Indianapolis Cathedral in Week 4. They routed Walnut Hills, Moeller and Elder by a combined margin of 151-55 in the first three rounds of the playoffs before beating Lakota West 10-7 last week on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Brogan McCaughey to Liam Clifford with 27 seconds to play.

“They’ve got a good offense,” Douglass said. “We’re going to have to be really sound as far as our gap responsibilities on the run game and do a good job of getting then in third-and-long situations.”

Junior quarterbacks lead St. Xavier and Springfield. McCaughey has thrown 23 touchdown passes and seven interceptions for the Bombers. Te’Sean Smoot has thrown 23 touchdown passes and nine interceptions for the Wildcats.

Smoot threw three touchdown passes against Elder in the state semifinals last year.

“He made some great plays last year,” Douglass said, “but this year it’s like night and day. Just from a comfortability standpoint, now he’s able to see things. I think last year the game was moving quicker for him. Now the game has truly slowed down. He’s taken extra time with the wide receivers, spending 10-15 minutes throwing to them after practice. He’s taken more ownership in the huddle, telling them we’ve got to do X, Y and Z. You can see it in his performance on the field.”

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As strong as Springfield’s offense has been, averaging 34.2 points per game, its defense has been just as important. The play of junior defensive lineman Jokell Brown, who missed time earlier this season with an injury, has helped the defense reach another level.

“You’re talking about a kid who was first-team all-conference as a sophomore,” Douglass said. “He’s also the strongest player on our team. Being an interior guy in the 3-4, that nose guard or strong-side defensive end is one of the most important parts of the unit. Having him back helps a lot from a confidence standpoint. He’s not super vocal, but when he says something, guys listen. He has that type of presence about him.”

Tywan January filled in for Brown at nose guard when he was out. Douglass listed Brown, January, free safey Delian Bradley, cornerback Kendal Dolby and linebacker Jaivian Norman as the most outstanding players for a defense full of talent.

The entire defense played one of its best games in the regional final as Springfield shut out Olentangy Liberty 19-0.

“Our guys fought really hard,” Douglass said, “and fought well. They did a good job during the week preparing for those guys. Their attention to detail helped out a lot. (Olentangy) gives you different formations and gets you thinking, and our guys adjusted to the tempo of what they were trying to do.”