Edgewood came up with a Lancer fumble three plays later and drove to the La Salle 27, but gave the ball up on downs with 4:22 left. The Lancers (9-2) then notched a pair of first downs to run out the clock.
That’s how the campaign came to a close for the Southwest Ohio Conference champion Cougars, who finished 8-3 in their first playoff season since 2012.
“We’re going to walk out with our heads high,” Edgewood coach Scott Clemmons said. “Our goals coming into the season were to win the league, go undefeated in the league and make it to the playoffs, then win a playoff game. The scoreboard doesn’t indicate it today and unfortunately that’s what it goes by, but as far as physical football and playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, I think our boys won that part.”
The Cougars nearly doubled La Salle in time of possession, though the visitors got outgained 268-226 in yardage.
“We’ve been in tight games like that all year,” Lancers coach Jim Hilvert said. “Every game is a tough game, and if you don’t come to play, you have an opportunity to get beat. With us, the X is on our back, and it’s even bigger when you win two state championships. You’re going to get everybody’s best shot.”
Christian Turner ran 21 times for 171 yards and a touchdown for La Salle, which will face unbeaten Turpin in the second round next Friday at a neutral site. Teammate Andre Evans totaled 17 tackles (five solos, 12 assists).
“I’d say we’re definitely more relieved than happy,” said Turner, a 6-foot, 193-pound senior and the Greater Catholic League South Division Athlete of the Year. “I guess everyone on the outside expected a blowout, but we knew they were a really good team coming in here. They were 8-2 just like us, and we knew their offense could score. We had some troubles executing and a couple costly penalties.”
The Lancers scored a touchdown before their offense hit the field. Tre’Sean Smith blocked a punt and Tyler Richardson returned it for a short TD with 9:59 remaining in the opening period.
But Edgewood showed it was serious by responding with a 16-play, 82-yard scoring drive that Reckart completed with a 1-yard run.
“Our boys are resilient,” Clemmons said. “We told them all week long that good and bad was going to happen, that we had to weather the storm with the bad and good things would happen for us too. They kept fighting and fighting and fighting and fighting.”
Edgewood High School senior Greg Dingledine talks about Friday night's 23-21 loss at La Salle in the Division II, Region 8 playoffs.
Turner’s 34-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second stanza made it 13-7, but the Cougars came right back with another long scoring drive. Edgewood went 83 yards in just under six minutes and was aided by a roughing-the-punter penalty that had the La Salle faithful howling. Reckart crossed the goal line on a 10-yard scamper, and a Pletz conversion kick gave the Cougars a 14-13 advantage.
The Lancers tallied 10 points in the last five minutes of the half to move ahead 23-14. Griffin Merritt hit Smith for a 35-yard touchdown with 4:56 showing, and Paul Young added a 30-yard field goal just before intermission.
Edgewood rallied after the break and closed the gap to 23-21 on the Reckart-to-Noble connection. Noble was wide open on the fourth-and-4 play.
Clemmons faced a huge decision when the Cougars reached the LHS 27 down the stretch. On fourth-and-3, should Edgewood go for it or let Pletz try a 44-yard field goal? Clemmons chose to go for it, and a Reckart pass fell incomplete.
“In a game like this, I’m not going to second-guess anything,” Clemmons said. “We do have a great kicker, but they come after kicks hard. It’s always in the back of your mind that they might block it, then scoop it and go. I trusted my offensive staff and the kids we have on offense that we could get the yards. We were just a tad short.”
Merritt and Turner provided the game-clinching first-down runs for La Salle, which escaped with its 11th straight postseason victory.
“It was very nerve-wracking. I probably don’t even have any nails anymore,” Turner said. “I’m just happy we got the win. My offensive line was creating huge holes for me. All the credit to them.”
Hilvert said his squad didn’t respond quite the way he hoped it would coming off an emotional triumph at Elder, a win that wrapped up the Lancers’ first outright GCL South championship.
“When you have an emotional win — just like when you have an emotional loss — you’ve got to be consistent the next week,” Hilvert said. “We’ve got to get our stuff together and learn from this experience. It’s all about winning and moving on to the next round, and our kids did that. But hopefully this was a wakeup call. Some things didn’t go our way, but we let adversity affect us.
“Hats off to Edgewood. They played their butts off. Coach Clemmons does a great job with their team. You’ve got to get off the field when you’re facing an offense like the Wing-T, and a play here and a play there hurt us defensively and allowed them to continue drives. Their quarterback’s a really good player. I thought that to begin with.”
Merritt completed 7 of 14 passes for 84 yards for the Lancers. Turner piled up 100 yards on nine rushes in the first half.
“When we got to him, we got him,” Dingledine said. “But he’s fast.”
Devon Garrett bulled his way to 109 yards on 24 carries and Reckart was 6 of 16 for 78 yards for the Cougars, who didn’t score less than 21 points in any game this season. They put up 21 in all three of their defeats (27-21 to Franklin and 48-21 to Columbus DeSales).
Clemmons said this senior class won’t be forgotten at Edgewood.
“It’s a special class as far as commitment to each other, commitment to our coaches and commitment to our community and school district to represent them the way it’s supposed to be done,” Clemmons said.
“I couldn’t have loved it any more,” Dingledine said. “I did it with some great guys. This season could’ve went a little better at the end, but we gave it one hell of a run.”
La Salle 7-16-0-0—23
L: Tyler Richardson 10 blocked punt return (Paul Young kick)
E: Drew Reckart 1 run (Julian Pletz kick)
L: Christian Turner 34 run (Kick failed)
E: Reckart 10 run (Pletz kick)
L: Tre’Sean Smith 35 pass from Griffin Merritt (Young kick)
L: Young 30 field goal
E: Nick Noble 25 pass from Reckart (Pletz kick)