“How about that?” he said. "This is his first year playing football. He’s played soccer his whole life. He could go somewhere and kick big time.
“We were just disappointed that we didn’t finish with touchdowns,” he added.
Senior running back Joshua Brogden added a 36-yard touchdown run with 3:12 left to clinch the top-seeded Firebirds' 23-7 win and their first berth in a regional championship game since losing to Huber Heights Wayne in 2014. They will face third-seeded St. Xavier on Friday at Lakota West. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“That’s huge,” Howard said. “St. X is good. We scrimmaged them. We’ll have to bring our ‘A’ game.”
“It’ll be a battle like this,” Bolden, the second-year Lakota West coach, said.
Senior Adrian Davis added a 12-yard touchdown run on his only carry of the game and the Lakota West defense limited fifth-seeded Colerain to 76 yards of total offense in the second half while the offense was piling up 221 after halftime of the Firebirds' second win of the season over Colerain. They snapped the Cardinals' 87-yard win streak against Greater Miami Conference in the opener of a season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This was really hard-fought,” Bolden said. “We’ve faced a lot of adversity this year.”
Senior defensive lineman Aneesh Vyas recovered a Colerain fumble and appeared to return it for a touchdown, but a Lakota West penalty during the return nullified the score. The 80 Firebirds, ranked No. 2 in the most recent Associated Press Division I statewide football poll, retained possession and the right-footed Howard converted with a 40-yard field goal, which he easily made despite losing his footing and landing on his back.
“I didn’t think I was going to get into the end zone, but I did,” the 6-foot-2, 260-pound Vyas said of his fumble recovery. “I was in the right place at the right time. It was a bummer that I didn’t score.”
Lakota West’s second-half defensive superiority simply was a matter of the Firebirds getting their heads in the game.
“In the first half, we were making silly mistakes,” Vyas said. “We were missing our keys. I think we got caught up in the moment – playing Colerain, for the second time, in the playoffs.”
“The coaching staff went in there at halftime and talked to them and got it fixed,” Bolden said.