The Fairfield High School football team bounced back from an emotional regular-season finale loss to collect its first playoff win in 19 years.
With a 37-13 victory over Hamilton on Friday in a Division I, Region 4 quarterfinal at Fairfield Alumni Stadium, the Indians also earned a chance to avenge their lone loss, as Colerain beat Princeton to set up a rematch of last week’s Greater Miami Conference championship showdown.
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Fairfield (10-1) had lost its last seven first-round games, including five under ninth-year coach Jason Krause, but the Indians outscored the Big Blue 28-0 in the second half to end the drought.
“We’ve been to the playoffs five times, and we were tired of saying, ‘Yeah, we made it to the playoffs again,’” Krause said. “You want to win one. It’s been a while around here, so it feels good to get that one out of the way.”
The Indians had to overcame adversity to hold off the Big Blue (5-6), who were making their first playoff appearance since 2010 after turning things around from a one-win 2018 campaign.
Fairfield was without GMC rushing leader JuTahn McClain after he injured his knee in an overtime loss to Colerain last week, and then backup Phil Thomas went out in the first quarter and finished the game on crutches. At one point, the Indians were down to a fourth-string running back.
“Everyone thought we were going to fall off because we lost to Colerain and we didn’t have JuTahn,” quarterback Sawiaha Ellis said. “We had to show everyone we’re not going to fall off. We’ve been working for this all season, and we know we’ve got Colerain next week so we’ll be ready.”
Ellis and Jaydan Mayes stepped up to lead Fairfield’s second-half explosion. Mayes, filling in as the third-string running back, scored on the first play from scrimmage to open the second half with a 67-yard touchdown run and then later added a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown to make it a 30-13 lead in the third quarter.
In between Mayes’ two scores, Hamilton mishandled a snap on a punt attempt to put the Indians on the Big Blue 32-yard line, and Deshaun Simpkins reached the end zone on a 26-yard pass from Ellis. Simpkins added the final dagger in the fourth quarter with another 37-yard touchdown catch.
“Jaydan had a great night,” Krause said. “We talked before the game. I said, ‘Someone’s got to step up,’ and he said, ‘I got you, Coach,’ and he obviously came out in a big way on both sides of the ball. And, we had some big pass plays. Sawiaha threw the ball really well tonight, dropped the ball in a couple times, the best I’ve seen him throw.”
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Hamilton had gotten off to a nice start with Keyshawn Stephens and Kaleb Johnson leading the team downfield on a successful opening drive, capped by Stephens’ 1-yard touchdown run off a direct snap. The extra point attempt was blocked, though, and Fairfield responded with a Marquis Jones’ 39-yard touchdown reception.
The Indians pinned Hamilton deep into its own territory on the ensuing drive, and Fairfield added points on a safety when Brandon Smith blocked a punt out of the back of the end zone to make it 9-6 with 2:11 left in the first quarter.
Hamilton’s defense came up with a fourth-down stop, then Nate Pratt recovered a fumble on another drive to regain the momentum in the second quarter, and the Big Blue went back ahead on Quincy Simms-Marshall’s 34-yard touchdown pass to Kevon Burnett. Those would be the final points of the half and the last ones for Hamilton, as Erik Rios missed a 28-yard field goal in the last minute before the break.
“We played with a lot of emotion in the first half, and that’s kind of what we needed to do,” first-year Hamilton coach Nate Mahon said. “They have a lot of great players, good athletes over there. We knew it would take our best game, and we came out firing and really had a lot of energy in the first half and we probably needed to score touchdowns and not settle for field goal attempts. If I had to have that one back, I probably would have just gone for it on fourth down, knowing that to beat them here in this situation probably meant scoring touchdowns, not field goals.”
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