Making playoff debut, Xenia falls to Columbus Walnut Ridge

Gavin Gerhardt walked out of the warmth of the locker room under Xenia’s Doug Adams Stadium back into the freezing Friday night air. His eyes were red and wet and he was still wearing his black Buccaneers uniform. He wasn’t in a hurry to take it off because it would be for the last time.

“It flew by,” he said of his high school football career. “It’s there and gone in a blink of an eye.”

The historic senior season Gerhardt and his classmates didn’t dare dream of when Trace Smitherman became head coach their sophomore year had just ended in a 28-7 playoff loss to unbeaten Columbus Walnut Ridge.

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Two years ago the Buccaneers suffered through a 2-8 season. Last year they finished 7-3 and won their division in the Greater Western Ohio Conference. This year they joined the newly formed Miami Valley League, won their division again and earned the school’s first playoff berth. The Bucs earned the No. 4 seed in Division II, Region 8 and the right to host No. 5 Walnut Ridge, which is in the playoffs for the third straight year.

“To be the first one to ever do this it’s really cool,” said Gerhardt, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound offensive lineman who has committed to Cincinnati. “I wish we would’ve won and kept going, but it was great while it lasted.”

Gerhardt said senior leadership was a major factor in the team’s success.

“The seniors we had this year were unbelievable,” he said. “We led silently, but we were definitely leaders. I love all those dudes.”

The largest crowd of the season turned out to support their team, and until the final minutes it had hope it would get to go to another game next week.

“It’s fantastic that we were able to play good enough football to where the community showed up the way they did tonight,” Smitherman said.

The crowd erupted when senior cornerback Chris Jones made the play of the game for Xenia (9-2) early in the second quarter. He intercepted Howard Thornton’s pass and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

But momentum killers, as Smitherman called them, kept the Bucs from scoring again. Their triple-option ground game that averaged 302.3 yards per game lost two fumbles and didn’t break any long runs. In what was a defensive stalemate until the fourth quarter, the Bucs never threatened to score after their early lead.

“We were doing some good things — just couldn’t overcome the mistakes,” Smitherman said.

Walnut Ridge’s offense had to slug out drives against Xenia’s stingy defense to get to the lead. The Scots scored in the final minute of the first half to tie the score. They took a 14-7 lead on Thornton’s 12-yard touchdown pass with 5:56 left in the third. Xenia still had a chance when it took possession with eight minutes left. But a fumble at the Buccaneers’ 17 led to a four-yard touchdown run by Antonio Felts and a 21-7 lead. The Scots added another score with 1:14 left, and will next play top-seeded Cincinnati La Salle, a 42-0 winner over Little Miami.

After last week’s regular season finale win at Fairborn, Smitherman said he didn’t foresee a 9-1 regular season.

“They played their hearts out,” he said. “We got the most out of this group of seniors that you can get out of a team. We’re a really, really good football team, and they should be proud of who they are and what they’ve done for this community.”

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