Turnovers doom Fairfield in first-round loss to St. Xavier

Fairfield receiver Raqwon Williams (4) looks up field during their Division I, Region 4 playoff game against St. Xavier at Fairfield Stadium on Friday night. GREG LYNCH/STAFF
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Fairfield receiver Raqwon Williams (4) looks up field during their Division I, Region 4 playoff game against St. Xavier at Fairfield Stadium on Friday night. GREG LYNCH/STAFF

With less than a minute left before halftime in its playoff opener, the Fairfield High School football team had the ball in a tie game and the knowledge it would receive the kickoff to open the second half.

Two turnovers in a 53-second span of play, with halftime in between, swung the game in St. Xavier’s favor as the visiting Bombers took advantage of the short-field opportunities to build a 14-point lead they wouldn’t lose.

In the end, the Indians (7-4) couldn’t overcome five turnovers, and St. Xavier (6-5) cruised to a 35-14 win Friday in a Division I, Region 4 quarterfinal at Fairfield Stadium.

“That’s a game-changer any night, but when you’re playing in this game, at this level, against this caliber opponent, you can’t turn it over at all,” Fairfield coach Jason Krause said. “We had five turnovers, four in the second half, and that led to points for them.”

Fairfield took a 7-0 lead on James Mitchell’s 74-yard punt return after the defense forced a three-and-out on the Bombers’ second possession, but a roughing-the-kicker penalty helped St. Xavier extend a drive to tie it up with 48 seconds left in the first quarter on Chase Wolf’s 52-yard pass to Andrew Wittrock.

The Indians’ offense struggled in the first half, totaling 52 yards and only moving into Bomber territory on the first drive when Jerred McGuire’s 51-yard field-goal attempt was wide right, but the defense continued to make plays on third down to keep Fairfield in the game.

That is, until turnover trouble settled in.

In the final minute of the first half, Aaron Carmack threw an interception right to Bombers defensive back Eugene Stallworth, and two plays later, Wolf and Wittrock teamed up again on a 14-yard pass for the 14-7 lead going into halftime.

Then, on the first play from scrimmage to open the third quarter, Mitchell fumbled on a carry, and Wolf found Jared Kreimer on the next play to extend the lead to 14 points just 19 seconds into the half.

“Those were the worst two things that could have happened to us,” Krause said of the momentum swing. “I thought we battled back a little after those things. We got on the board, but they got a couple late ones and we didn’t do enough things right.”

Fairfield answered the next drive on Chico Robinson’s 20-yard touchdown run, but the offense turned it over four more times and never again found the end zone. The Bombers tacked on two more scores in the fourth quarter, sealing the game when Stallworth picked off Carmack again and returned it 15 yards for the final points with 34 seconds left.

“It gave us the momentum to be able to get the ball back right away to start the second half and be able to take it in and go up two scores — that was huge,” St. Xavier coach Steve Specht said. “It’s a lot easier calling a game when you’re up two scores, but they didn’t quit. They fought back and cut it to 21-14 and luckily we had a couple interceptions there in the fourth quarter to seal it.

“You get to the playoffs, and ultimately it’s a battle of field position and a battle of turnovers. We won those battles, and that was the end result.”

Wolf completed 20 of 32 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns with one interception by Fairfield’s Sam Meddings. St. Xavier finished with just 42 yards rushing, while Mitchell had 82 and Robinson 49 yards to lead Fairfield’s ground game.

Carmack was 16 of 31 passing for 95 yards and three interceptions.

Drew Bartolovich led the Indians’ defense with eight tackles and 2.5 sacks. Alvin Burke added seven tackles, and Josiah Scott had six, including two tackles for loss.

“They (the defense) did play well, but you can’t just keep giving St. X a short field,” Krause said. “There’s no way you can do that to your defense, and we did. Our defense can only play well so long. You can’t give St. X the short field and all those opportunities to score.”

St. Xavier moves on to face No. 1 Colerain for a second time this season after losing to the Cardinals 20-14 in overtime. Colerain ended the Bombers’ postseason last year, but lost in a second-round game against St. X in 2014.

Fairfield was making its second straight playoff appearance and third in the last four years following a two-win campaign in 2012. It’s the Indians’ fourth straight winning season, only the second time in school history that’s been accomplished (1985-88 was the other).

“This senior class came in as seventh graders my first year, so the six years I’ve been here, I’ve seen them all the way through, and they’ve been a huge part of this turnaround,” Krause said. “They put us back on the map. Now we need the underclassmen to step up and continue this thing, and we need to take the next step, get back to the playoffs next year and win a playoff game.”

St. Xavier 7-7-7-14—35

Fairfield 7-0-7-0—14

F: James Mitchell 74 punt return (Jerred McGuire kick)

S: Andrew Wittrock 52 pass from Chase Wolf (Kevin Rockwood kick)

S: Wittrock 14 pass from Wolf (Rockwood kick)

S: Jared Kreimer 15 pass from Wolf (Rockwood kick)

F: Chico Robinson 20 run (McGuire kick)

S: Quinn Earley 17 pass from Wolf (Rockwood kick)

S: Eugene Stallworth 15 interception return (Rockwood kick)