The Celtics close out the season at 7-3 and unofficially finished 12th in the computer rankings. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs. Jerome’s three losses this season were by a combined 16 points and a 14-7 defeat to Groveport-Madison in Week 2 marked their largest margin of defeat.
Jerome was 4-1 in the OCC-Cardinal Division, good for second place behind league champion Pickerington Central (5-0). The Tigers are the second seed in the Division I Region 3 playoffs behind Hilliard Darby (9-1).
Senior Marshall Burkhart made his final football game at Jerome a memorable one.
Burkhart, who filled in for injured quarterback Kevin Jackson in the second half, ran for two touchdowns and passed for another to power the Celtics.
Jackson left the game midway through the third quarter when he suffered an apparent fractured ankle after scrambling for a seven-yard gain.
“I told the guys we better be praying for Kevin, but Marshall Burkhart stepped up,” Jerome coach Mark Hundley said. “He stepped up and played a great second half for us.”
“We have a team motto called amnesia,” said Burkhart, a Division I lacrosse recruit who is heading to Johns Hopkins. “We forget about bad plays and bad things that happen, and we move on from them right away. That’s what we were saying in the huddle when Kevin went down. It kind of helped us pull through in the game.”
The Wildcats finish the season at 3-7 and 1-4 in the OCC-Cardinal.
“They played hard,” South coach Rocky Pentello said of his team. “It’s their last game, but I think we just ran into a better football team.”
South remained within striking distance in the first half as the teams battled to a scoreless draw heading into the intermission.
“We were very concerned at the half,” Hundley said. “We came out that first half about as flat as we’ve been all year. We were in position to make a lot of plays, especially on defense, but just not making them. We were there to make the blocks offensively and just not finishing the blocks. I was very scared that first half.”
It took the Celtics just 57 seconds to take the lead for good in the second half as Burkhart took a hand-off from backfield teammate Ricky Kovatch and raced 50 yards for the game’s first score.
Jerome appeared ready to pull away as Connor Rosenbaum blocked an Austin Parks’ punt, giving the hosts a first down at the South 25. The Celtics’ momentum, however, quickly faded as Jackson was injured on his team’s next play.
Faced with a 3rd-and-goal from the South 31 following four penalties, Burkhart connected on his first varsity pass, hitting Cory Gasparro for a 31-yard touchdown with 4:33 remaining in the third quarter.
A game South squad managed to cut the lead in half when junior quarterback Cortez Fleming’s pass was deflected by Jerome cornerback Cody Burris into the hands of Brent Carter for a 58-yard touchdown.
The Celtics, however, scored 13 unanswered points in the final quarter to open a commanding 27-7 advantage.
Burkhart scored on a 46-yard run and Kovatch added a 3-yard TD run to spark the Celtics.
South closed out the scoring on Fleming’s 34-yard TD pass to Jack Tomlinson with 3:42 left in the game.
Burkhart finished with 181 yards on 19 carries. Jackson added 64 yards on seven attempts.
“It’s definitely awesome to end on a positive note like that,” Burkhart said. “It’s great for all the seniors, the whole team to finish with a 7-3 record. The seniors are going to remember their last game for the rest of their lives.”
Fleming rushed for 60 yards on 19 carries and completed 8 of 16 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
Carter caught four passes for 91 yards.
“I thought our defense played real well,” Pentello said. “They shut them out for the first half and gave up two big plays in the second half that set us back. We need the game to come down to where it’s a close game like a 10-7, 14-10 game. Right now we’re not playing well enough on offense to score that many points.”