WASHINGTON COURT HOUSE – Cody Griffin was missing from the field, but the 1,000-yard senior tailback was close to the heart of the Circleville Tigers Friday night.
The Tigers honored Griffin, who was lost for several weeks with an appendix surgery, by posting a 22-point second quarter scoring barrage and holding off Washington Court House for a 25-19 win in a Division III, Region 12 quarterfinal game.
“Cody went down, but we knew we could still win,” CHS senior Drew Clanin said. “We knew we had to play with a lot of emotion, not make many mistakes and win this game for him.”
Circleville (8-3) won its first playoff game in school history by beating Washington (8-3) for the second time this season. The Tigers used three blocked punts to post a 34-27 Week Two win over the Blue Lions. This time, visiting Circleville forced three turnovers in the first half and four in the contest.
“We’re a resilient team and not a lot of people thought we could do what we have this season,” Circleville senior Justin Topping said. “We’ve proven them wrong.”
Clanin paced the Tigers by catching four passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns. The Circleville senior also came away with two interceptions on defense. Stefan Gizzi, who donned Griffin’s jersey, and Chris Starner combined for 137 rushing yards to help make up for the loss of Griffin.
“Our offensive line did a nice job blocking for our running game,” Circleville head coach Keith Downing said. “We had a few times when we needed a big first down and they got it for us.”
The Tigers used a bit of trickery to get its offense underway. Running a flea-flicker, Topping found a wide open Clanin for a 65-yard touchdown pass, allowing CHS to take a 7-0 lead just 11 seconds into the second quarter.
“It’s a pass we practice a lot,” Topping said. “We practiced it six times this week so I just knew what to do. I threw the ball to Drew and we executed it just like in practice.
“I think that got us off to a good start offensively and also gave our defense a lift.”
Circleville, which wore stickers on its helmets to honor Griffin, kept the momentum going on its next possession by amassing a 10-play, 68-yard drive. Quarterback Kory Hartinger hit Drew McGlone with an 11-yard pass and Clanin on a 31-yard crossing route to march deep into Washington territory. After picking up a fourth-and-three, Hartinger ran a three-yard sneak to increase the Circleville lead to 13-0 after the extra point was blocked.
Hartinger then stopped a Blue Lion drive on the next possession by intercepting Washington quarterback Issac Free in the end zone. Two plays later, Hartinger threw a jump ball that Clanin collected, broke two tackles and went in for a 55-yard score. The two-point conversion failed, leaving Circleville ahead 19-0.
Issac Free was intercepted by Clanin on the next series, turning the ball over to the Tigers on the Washington 32 after the Clanin run back. Kort Wolfe cashed the chance in on a 29-yard field goal that put the Tigers ahead 22-0 at half.
“I was just in the right place at the right time for the interception,” Clanin said.
Washington had its chances in the first half. The Blue Lions had the ball in Circleville territory three times and on the 50-yard line once, only to come away with no points.
“We didn’t have good field position at the beginning of the game and they gained some yards, but our defense stopped them in the first half when they got into the red zone,” Downing said.
“We got down there twice and almost three times and didn’t get any points, and that just killed us,” Washington coach John Enochs said.
The Blue Lions finally cashed in its first score in the third quarter. After Circleville turned the ball over on downs inside the Washington 20, Zach Free took a handoff and lateraled the ball back to Jacob Frazier for a 78-yard touchdown run, cutting the lead down to 22-6 after the PAT failed.
“We got our kids settled down at halftime and they came out and played a very good second half,” Enochs said. “We were in the game, had chances, but we just couldn’t get over that hump. Three touchdowns were just too much.”
Washington struck again 14 seconds into the fourth quarter, as Issac Free threw a fade to Cayleb Cox for a 17-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, leaving Circleville ahead 22-12.
The turnover bug hit the Blue Lions almost three minutes later. Issac Free fumbled the football with Circleville’s Eric Wadlington jumping on the loose pigskin. Wolfe delivered three more points on another 29-yard field goal.
“That was a big turnover,” Downing said. “We didn’t know rather to kick the field goal or go for it, but we decided to kick and got three more points.”
Washington had two more chances inside Circleville territory following the field goal, but came away with no points. The Blue Lions finally scored again with 58 seconds left on a 20-yard fade from Issac Free to Frazier, drawing Washington to within six.
After two false starts, Washington kicked an onside kick into the air that McGlone called a fair catch for.
“We work on that a lot in practice, and we know if it doesn’t touch the ground to call for a fair catch,” McGlone said.
The Tigers followed by running out the clock to claim the win.
Hartinger threw for 110 yards for Circleville and added 50 yards rushing. McGlone and Hartinger each had eight tackles on defense.
Circleville advances to the regional semifinal next week to take on Cincinnati Indian Hill.
finished at 8-3 on the season. The Blue Lions won a share of the South
Central Ohio League title and made the playoffs for the first time
had a good season and good skill kids,” Enochs said. “The kids always
played hard and always till the end. They never gave up.”