Football playoffs: Fairfield eager for another shot at Colerain, 2 weeks later

The Fairfield High School football team wasn’t going to overlook its first-round playoff opponent, but the potential for a rematch with Colerain served as a carrot to the next round.

Fairfield cruised in the second half against Hamilton last week to claim its first playoff victory since 2000, and now the Indians (10-1) are ready for a second chance against Colerain (10-1).

The Tribe fell in overtime to the Cardinals two weeks ago, and it cost them the Greater Miami Conference title, a perfect regular season and the glory that would have come with dethroning a program that had won 82 straight GMC games and 19 consecutive conference championships going into the matchup.

This time, the season is on the line when the teams clash Friday in the Division I, Region 4 semifinals at Princeton Mancuso Viking Stadium. Colerain beat Princeton in the first round to advance.

“We wanted that rematch,” quarterback Sawiaha Ellis said. “We fell short last time, but we know we could have won that game, so now’s our second chance. We just have to make the most of the opportunity.”

In the first matchup, Colerain beat Fairfield 16-10 on Deshawn Pace’s direct-snap run into the end zone, a play the Cardinals had added in during the second half of the season and used in overtime to get the ball in the hands of their best athlete.

The Indians blocked the extra-point attempt after the touchdown but failed to reach the end zone on their overtime possession. Both defenses had shined throughout the game until Pace’s six overtime carries out of the Wildcat formation proved the back-breaker for Fairfield.

Colerain coach Shawn Cutright said it’s going to take some similar creativity to find that same kind of success in the rematch.

“They have a great defense so we put in a few different packages, and in overtime we felt that was our best option and fortunately that worked out,” said Cutright, the Cardinals’ first-year head coach after serving as a long-time defensive coordinator under former coach Tom Bolden. “We’ll be trying a few wrinkles again to try to penetrate that front seven. They are fast and physical and we have to figure out how to gain yards against them because it was a defensive battle the first time, and obviously it took overtime to settle it.”

Fairfield remains just as confident going into the second meeting despite the loss two weeks ago, ninth-year Indians coach Jason Krause said. He doesn’t necessarily believe he has to come up with anything different to beat Colerain, but the execution has to be better this time.

The Indians were intercepted twice in or just outside the end zone and also failed to convert a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. They also fumbled a kick return.

“We left some points on the board,” Krause said. “We knew it was going to be tough sledding, but we have to come away with points in a tight ball game. We just have to execute, take care of the little things and stick to our game plan. Defensively, we have to be a little more prepared for whatever wrinkles they throw us. They found some things that worked and ran the ball pretty well against us.”

The Cardinals employ a triple-option offense led by quarterback Freddie Johnson and running backs M.J. Flowers, Hamzah Abdul-Waheed and Jaylen Thomas, who provided a balanced rushing attack.

Fairfield was hurt in the first matchup when GMC-leading rusher JuTahn McClain missed about 20 minutes of the game because of a knee injury, which he tried to play through after returning midway through the fourth quarter. He sat out of last week’s playoff opener but was set to try to practice Wednesday with hopes of being ready to play Friday.

Colerain is preparing as though he will play.

“We have to game plan how to slow him down,” Cutright said. “Our defense did a good job last time, but he can break an 80-90-yard run any play. His speed is tough. We’re happy we held him without breaking a big one, but he got dinged up which I’m sure slowed him down. I’m expecting him to be ready to run Friday.”

The Indians had several players step up in McClain’s absence against Hamilton, and Krause remains confident they will be ready to do the same Friday if necessary.

“This time of year it’s about winning and advancing,” Krause said. “We’re excited for another matchup, and I think it will be another good one. It’s awesome to see them again, so we’re excited for the opportunity.”

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