WEST CHESTER TWP. — The Lakota West High football team’s bid for its first regional championship came to an abrupt end Friday night.
Brogan McCaughey connected with Liam Clifford for a 17-yard touchdown strike with 27 seconds left, lifting St. Xavier past Lakota West for a 10-7 Division I regional championship victory.
Defensively, the Firebirds (8-1) kept the potent St. X offense in check, but offensively the Firebirds struggled with costly mistakes that kept them behind the sticks and in situations they were unaccustomed to.
Clifford and the high-octane Bomber offense came into the matchup averaging 50 points a game in the postseason, with a 62-point showing in a Week 6 win over perennial state power Cleveland St. Ignatius.
“We played well enough defensively to win it, we just didn’t play well enough offensively to win it,” Lakota West coach Tom Bolden said. “But that’s how it goes. Our defense just kept making plays. You know a great team like that, we were good enough defensively, just not offensively.”
The Bombers opened the scoring late in the second quarter on a 32-yard field goal by Mason Rohmiller to stake a 3-0 lead that stood until halftime.
After both teams exchanged short drives to start the second half, the Firebirds took advantage of a short field following a 17-yard Trent Lloyd punt return aided by a St. X penalty. That staged a 5-play drive ending in a 14-yard Mitch Bolden touchdown run, giving the Firebirds a 7-3 lead.
The Firebird defense held that lead for 19 minutes.
“Everybody was talking about Lakota West defense versus our offense, and I told these kids all year long it takes three facets to win a football game and I thought our defense stepped up big,” St. Xavier coach Steve Specht said. “Our offense was able to move the ball, but that Lakota West defense is really special, and we did enough to win the game.”
The Bombers did play all three facets. They silenced the Lakota West offense, played well enough offensively to win the game, and blocked a punt deep in Firebird territory.
“We just made too many mistakes offensively,” Bolden said. “And I’m sure our offensive kids are struggling and feeling bad about that, but it’s amazing to get to this point and to play a legendary game like this — they’re just classics.”
The Firebirds pushed St. X into two separate Fourth and 10 situations on the Bombers’ final drive and both times the Bombers converted — once aided by a defensive holding penalty on a pass that was intercepted by West and the other on a long pass completion.
“We made one more play, and I’m excited as heck for our kids. But you hate to see anybody lose a game like that,” Specht said. “What a classic battle but, man, we’ve seen a lot of these before.”
A 17-yard corner route with 27 seconds remaining to the Penn State bound Clifford, who had been held in check all evening, was the deciding factor in Tom Bolden’s 20th game against St. X — which left him with a 10-10 record in those matchups.
“I told the kids that it’s all about making memories,” Bolden said. “We make memories and unfortunately it’s not the one we wanted. But I tell them, ‘Fellas, when it hurts, and it hurts, and it’s gonna hurt. Don’t think of the final outcome, just keep remembering the journey and how special this has been.’
“How thankful I am to this community, this school, these students, these coaches, and everybody else,” Bolden added. “To be here where we are and early in the program, I’m excited for the future, but my heart goes out to these seniors.”
St. Xavier (8-2) plays Springfield on Friday at Piqua in a Division state semifinal.