Late Hartley surge ends Fenwick’s perfect season in state semifinals

Fenwick High School’s state championship dream got washed away Saturday night at Wilmington’s Alumni Field.

Columbus Hartley tallied 16 points in the last nine minutes and ended the top-ranked Falcons’ perfect football season with a 26-14 triumph in a cold and rainy Division IV state semifinal.

“My kids played their hearts out. That’s all I can ask,” said Fenwick coach Joe Snively, whose squad finished 13-1. “When you get in the playoffs, there’s only going to be one team that’s going to end this thing happy. The rest of us are going to end in tears.

“We all feel a lot of pain right now, but when the kids reflect back on this season and as the years go by, they can’t be anything but proud of what they’ve done. I can’t thank them enough, especially these seniors.”

Nathan Jeffers and Vince Durham ran for the Falcons’ touchdowns, with Durham gaining 100 yards on 18 carries at fullback. He went both ways all night, also manning his usual linebacker spot.

Durham’s TD and Matthew Hirko’s extra point gave Fenwick a 14-10 lead with 7:56 left in the third quarter.

“On the field, it was extremely intense,” Durham said. “The hits both ways … I know everyone was getting up wobbly in that game. You’d get up like, ‘Dang, that was a good hit.’ ”

Nick Onega scored on a 26-yard run on the first drive of the night by Hartley (11-3). Ben Hawk added a 30-yard field goal late in the second period to make it a 10-7 game at the break.

The Hawks rallied down the stretch, starting with Hawk’s 23-yard field goal with 8:38 remaining to close the gap to 14-13.

Hartley’s next drive reached the FHS 1-yard line. On fourth-and-goal, Hawks coach Brad Burchfield sent Hawk out for an 18-yard field-goal attempt, then decided to go for it, and Quri Hickman bulled into the end zone with 3:03 on the clock.

“We actually go over that same play in practice all the time,” Hickman said. “It was only one step away, and we decided to put it on the whole team instead of just the kicker. I had enough faith in my offensive line that they would get it.”

It was a strange sequence that included a Hartley delay-of-game penalty — the Hawks wanted to get a better angle on the field goal — that the Falcons declined. After a timeout, Burchfield then sent his offense back onto the field.

“You could see that we were mulling it. That wasn’t theatrics,” Burchfield said. “Obviously that was the right decision because it worked, but if it didn’t, you know what happens. They got us on a great stop early on and scored right off of it, so I’d be lying if I said that didn’t go through the back of my mind. You start thinking that I might be costing the kids the game.”

The conversion failed, but Hartley led 19-14. Anthony Ladd recovered a Falcon fumble less than a minute later, and on fourth-and-1 at the Fenwick 30, Hickman broke through the line for a touchdown with 46 seconds left.

“Coach is always challenging me to run angry, and I was going pretty hard right there,” he said. “I trusted my offensive line, and they did it. That’s how it went all night. They blocked, I went through the holes. It all came down to the men in the trenches.”

The 6-foot, 235-pound tailback finished with 195 yards on 36 carries, giving him 2,158 yards for the season. Quarterback Jake Ruby ran nine times for 63 yards, and Richard Jones had 48 yards on 11 rushes.

“He is a big man,” Durham said of Hickman. “I’ll tell you what, he was a load to take down.”

The Hawks forged a 372-164 advantage in total yards.

“Without a doubt that was the best offense our defense has faced all year. Athletically, strategically, everything,” Snively said. “Early on they were getting jet sweep and toss sweep with some blocking schemes that were new to us, some really good stuff. I’m going to call him up in the offseason and learn some of the stuff they were doing.

“We were able to adjust and start shutting down some of it, and then they just started pounding it with Hickman and those guys. They kept our defense on the field forever.”

Durham did the bulk of the Falcons’ running. With Michael Sheridan sidelined by a concussion, Snively said during the week that junior Jake Denning would likely start at fullback and Durham would rotate in, but the plan changed.

“Jake was a little banged up, so we just went ahead and made the decision that it was going to be Durham,” Snively said. “Vince has been the cornerstone of the team without a doubt. He’s going to be sadly, sadly missed.”

“I was kind of excited to go both ways, and I felt pretty good,” Durham said. “I tried to get my team in the best position to win. You always want it to go your way. Sometimes it just doesn’t.”

Burchfield commented during the week that he hoped Sheridan would play so Hartley wouldn’t have to face Durham as much.

“I was right on that,” Burchfield said. “No. 44 was a beast, exactly like we thought.”

Jeffers was limited to 12 yards on four carries for the Falcons, and quarterback Alan Nix was 2 of 6 for 43 yards. Hirko punted five times for a 39.2-yard average.

Fenwick’s tackle leaders included Nick Wysong (11), Ben Hinton (10), Logan Gearhart (nine) and James Serrentino (nine). Linebacker Jack Baughman paced the Hawks with 11 tackles.

Hartley will play Steubenville (13-0), a 28-0 semifinal winner over Youngstown Ursuline, for the state title at 8 p.m. next Saturday at Ohio Stadium in Columbus.

The Falcons will head into the offseason after watching their school-record 17-game winning streak come to an end. The Associated Press state poll champions will lose more than two dozen seniors, Durham included.

“So many memories, a lot of good times,” he said. “You don’t forget that stuff.”

Hartley 7-3-0-16—26

Fenwick 7-0-7-0—14

H: Nick Onega 26 run (Ben Hawk kick)

F: Nathan Jeffers 5 run (Matthew Hirko kick)

H: Hawk 30 field goal

F: Vince Durham 2 run (Hirko kick)

H: Hawk 23 field goal

H: Quri Hickman 1 run (Run failed)

H: Hickman 30 run (Hawk kick)

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