Despite faling behind 10-0 early in the Division I state semifinal game, Cincinnati Elder battled back to down previously unbeaten Pickerington Central 24-10 to advance to the state title game for the first time since winning back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003.
We have more from the game.
DAYTON – For the first time since winning back-to-back state championships in 2002 and 2003, Cincinnati Elder will once again play for a Division I state football championship.
Despite being down 10-0 early in the second quarter to Pickerington Central in the state semifinal game, Elder buckled down and scored 24 unanswered points at Dayton’s Welcome Stadium Sat., Nov. 22 in front of a near capacity crowd to earn a trip to Canton to play for a third state title in school history.
“That was the third week in a row were losing (early) and I guess that is our thing – we let people get ahead of us and then we find a way to win,” Elder head coach Doug Ramsey said.
Pickerington (13-1) was allowing just 145 yards per game coming in but Elder (13-1) outgained the Tigers 385-293 in total offensive yards going mainly to the air attack after losing junior running back Adam Brown to an apparent ankle injury in the second quarter.
“That was a physical game and we thought it was going to be that way. I know it is an ankle sprain and we’re just going to have to see how bad it really is,” Ramsey said about the Brown injury.
Quarterback Mark Miller was 19-of-31 passing for 253 yards with a touchdown and an interception and Elder was 9-of-13 on third down conversions.
“(Miller) played really well again,” said Ramsey. “He made some big plays for us on third downs and under pressure.”
Senior receiver and Cincinnati recruit Josh Jones reeled in six catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
“Josh Jones probably played his best game of the year,” Ramsey said. “He made a lot of big plays for us tonight and we needed that.”
Added Jones, “I think it was my best game so far, too. We still have one more game so I will try to make that my best game.”
Sophomore Ben Caffaro tallied 57 yards rushing and a touchdown and while only adding 15 yards rushing, senior back Nick Gramke also found the end zone.
“Ben is a good player and we really have three guys we can go to,” Ramsey said of his backfield. “Ben hasn’t gotten a lot of carries this year but when he got his opportunities he took advantage.”
Pickerington started the game with the ball and chewed up nearly the entire first half of the first quarter running 13 plays but only came away with three points on a 34-yard Adam Castin field goal.
Miller was intercepted by Pickerington defensive back and Michigan State recruit Pat White on Elder’s first possession. Pickerington capitalized putting together a 10-play, 58-yard scoring drive, which included a fourth down conversion. Ohio State recruit Jamie White took it into the end zone from five yards on the first play of the second quarter to put the Tigers up 10-0.
After trading punts, Elder got on the board with 4:40 left in the half on a 2-yard Gramke run after starting the possession on its own 14-yard line.
Pickerington had a chance to add to its lead late in the second quarter facing a fourth down and three from the Elder 6-yard line but instead of kicking what would have been a 23-yard chip shot field goal, the Tigers elected to go for the first down but the pass from quarterback Nick Raymond to Wood was batted down.
“To beat this team, you’ve got to pull the reins loose,” Pickerington head coach Jay Sharrett said about the decision to go for it on fourth down. “We needed to get a touchdown right there and our guys wanted to go for it.”
“That was big,” Ramsey said. “With the big backs that they have, just to be able to get into that situation to get them off the field and get into halftime and regroup was big.”
Both teams punted to start the second half but Elder took over with 7:59 left in the frame and put together a 14-play, 89-yard scoring drive that ate 4:13 off the clock and included two third down conversions and a fourth down conversion. The Panthers scored on a 22-yard Caffaro run to give Elder its first lead of the game at 14-10.
Pickerington went three-and-out on its next possession and Elder struck quickly after the punt as Miller found Jones in the flat and he raced 65 yards for the touchdown to put Elder up 21-10 late in the third quarter.
After another Pickerington three-and-out, Elder took over early in the fourth quarter and held the ball on offense for 7:11. Kicker Anthony Miliano poked a kick through the uprights from 34 yards out to cap the scoring drive and give Elder a 24-10 lead with 4:29 left in the game.
The drive included seven running plays.
“It was nice to get the running game going in the second half,” Ramsey said. “In the first half it didn’t look like we were going to be able to run for a yard and I really think we wore (Pickerington) down.”
Pickerington had two opportunities in the waning minutes of the game on offense to try and cut the lead but Raymond was intercepted on the next two possessions.
Raymond finished the game 15-of-29 passing for 139 yards and the two late picks. He started the game 6-for-8 for 58 yards in the first quarter.
White had five catches for 42 yards and Wood had three receptions for 42 yards.
“It was going to take a good football team to beat us and they were a good football team,” said Sharrett. “We had some opportunities and made the most of them and a couple we let slip away.”
Elder will face Cleveland St. Ignatius Sat., Nov. 29 at Canton’s Fawcett Stadium at 7:00 p.m. for the state championship.
Ignatius (13-1) cruised past North Canton Hoover 34-7 in the other Division I semifinal game and has won an Ohio High School Athletic Association record nine state championships.
“That is going to be a battle,” said Ramsey of the pending state title game match up. “I have seen them on film a little bit but for the rest of the night I am going to think about this win.”