The Springboro football program had just endured something no team should have to face. When it was finally over, they were spent.
“You walk off the field and everything catches up to you,” said junior quarterback Jack Schaaf following a heartbreaking 45-38 overtime setback to visiting Lakota East in Saturday night’s Division I, Region 4 high school football playoff opener.
“You’re just thankful for what you have.”
Of course the Panthers are.
The game might as well have been a community memorial to fallen Springboro junior lineman Shaun Frechette. He was killed in a one-car accident on Thursday morning as he drove to school.
His death rocked classmates, coaches, teammates and the community unlike anything else imaginable. Just as suddenly, trying to emotionally lock in on the playoffs seemed secondary.
A moving tribute to Frechette was held before the game. Both teams joined near midfield and united for a moment of silence. That was followed by the unleashing of a stadium-full of white and blue balloons – Springboro’s colors – to salute the Panthers’ fallen teammate.
It was a given that Springboro’s focus for its most important game of the season would be taxed. The previous 36 hours were unlike any that teammates had experienced. Details and final chalk talks took a backseat to emotional recovery and encouraging camaraderie.
That may or may not have played into East’s favor. It sure seemed that way when Will Mahone blasted 76 yards on the first play from scrimmage for the Thunderhawks. Two carries later Mahone gave East a 7-0 lead. Less than one minute had been played.
Trailing throughout, Schaaf guided Springboro 58 yards in less than two minutes on a clutch final fourth-quarter drive. His 22-yard catch-and-run to Jake Johnson sent the packed stadium into a frenzy.
But Boro couldn’t match East’s lone scoring OT drive. Thunderhawks QB Eric Eichler capped an outstanding game when he pin-balled in from six yards out for the winning score. Eichler completed just four passes, but three went for scores.
Springboro hoped to answer on its OT possession, but Rahman Hardin was stuffed near the goal line by East defender Ben Bostick.
East (8-3) earned a Region 4 semifinal against Moeller (8-3) next Saturday. Moeller eliminated Wayne 43-21 in another Region 4 quarterfinal also on Saturday. Springboro finishes 10-1.
Panthers coach Ryan Wilhite consoled his team long after the end.
“We threw everything we had at them,” said Schaaf , who completed 24 of 39 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns.
“When nothing was there, we pushed harder. When we had nothing left, we found a little bit more. It was just incredible. No matter what, I love the guys and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”