Dream season ends with semifinal loss at Wooster
The gap is closing.
The Douglas High School football team gave traditional powerhouse Wooster all it could handle Saturday afternoon in a semifinal game of the Class 4A Northern Zone playoffs, but came up just short, 31-26, at Joe Mac Sellers Field in Reno.
The Tigers had the ball last in what was a thoroughly entertaining game, but the 89 yards they had to go and the 45 seconds they had to work with proved to be too much as quarterback Chris Griffith threw four straight incompletions on the final possession. It just wasn’t meant to be.
“You can’t take anything away from the kids, they weren’t afraid or intimidated,” Douglas coach Mike Rippee said. “We knew we could win and felt we should have won.”
Douglas finished the season 7-4 and with its first playoff victory in Class 4A. Wooster, the Division II regular-season champion, improved to 9-2 and set a Friday night date with McQueen, the undefeated Division I regular-season champion and the top-ranked team in the state, for the zone championship.
The Tigers got off to a dream-like start against the state’s second-ranked team and showed they were ready to battle.
Brady Ovard returned the opening kickoff 59 yards to the Wooster 38. Senior running back Kevin Lehr later converted a fourth-and-1 with a 4-yard run. After a pass interference call on Wooster on a second-and-nine pass over the middle to Bill put the ball at the 6, Griffith took a keeper to the right side, wide open, into the end zone for a 7-0 lead just 2:35 into the game.
The Douglas defense, which gave up three big plays but otherwise turned in an outstanding effort, forced the powerful, ground-based Wooster offense to go four-and-out on the opening two possessions. But Wooster’s game plan, field position first, finally paid off late in the first quarter.
Wooster started its third possession from the Douglas 34. A 5-yard encroachment penalty on Douglas moved the ball up to the 29. Mitch Jones busted through the middle of the line and then kicked out left on the first play of the drive and picked up 28 yards. Quinell Jones then capped the short drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge up the middle.
Wooster scored again on the second play of its next possession when quarterback Greg Rocke connected with Lance Studebaker on a hitch-and-go pattern up the right sideline for a 67-yard touchdown.
Not to be outdone in the big-play department, Lehr tied the game on Douglas’ next play from scrimmage with an 81-yard touchdown scamper on a sweep left that turned free up the sideline.
The teams had combined for 21 points in the final 2:32 of the quarter. Lehr, who finished the game with 18 carries for 116 yards, had 104 yards in the first quarter.
Each team punted on its first three possessions of the second quarter. Douglas started at its own 2 on its second possession of the quarter but avoided any field position problems when Griffith hit Beau Kruger for 28 yards up the right sideline on a brilliant second-down call. The play-action pass was set up by a faked inside handoff to Lehr out of a full-house backfield set.
Douglas eventually got the ball at its own 48 with 1:26 left in the half. The time left on the clock and the good field position afforded the coaches a chance to pull a little something special out of their hats. But, the trick play turned into a treat for Wooster.
Griffith’s third-down screen pass to the left side intended for Troy Fontana behind the line of scrimmage missed, and Wooster’s Maurice Townsell scooped it up and raced 36 yards down to the Douglas 10. Only a hustling tackle by Griffith prevented a defensive touchdown.
“We were going to pull all the stops out and go for something big to happen,” Rippee said.
The Douglas defense dug in and forced a fourth-and-goal at the 2. After a Wooster timeout with two seconds left in the half, Quinell Jones scored what could have been a back-breaking touchdown. Jones started on the left side in a three-back set, got an inside handoff and raced parallel across the line before turning up over the right tackle.
Rippee said he wasn’t concerned going into the locker room.
“The kids were mad more than anything else,” Rippee said. “They were just anxious to come back out.”
Wooster extended its lead to 28-14 with 4:50 left in the third quarter when Mitch Jones ran for 12 yards and then a 34-yard touchdown in a two-play drive.
Wooster only got the great field position after a major penalty was called on the Douglas bench.
A Wooster player called for a fair catch at his own 39 on a 34-yard punt by Adam Bill. Another Wooster player came in next to the player calling for the fair catch, grabbed the ball and started running. It was the kind of play that looked like something set up to fool the punting team and the officials.
The officials, finally realizing what was going on, called the play dead after the Wooster player running with the ball had picked up five yards and was breaking free on the left side. A penalty, which should have resulted, was never called. Rippee and the Douglas bench went wild and were eventually slapped with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.
Remarkably, the Tigers didn’t go into the tank after the missed call, emotional penalty and Wooster touchdown. They responded with a four-play, 80-yard drive.
Lehr picked up nine yards on a run out of bounds to the left side on the first play of the drive. A 15-yard penalty was tacked on when a Wooster player took a cheap shot and speared Lehr after he was well out of bounds.
Griffith hit Ovard for four yards on a quick screen to the right side on the third play of the drive, and then connected with Joel Kruger for a 53-yard touchdown. Kruger started on the right side on the touchdown play, came across the the middle and eventually broke it free up the left side.
However, the extra-point kick by Griffith was blocked. The miss left Douglas down 28-20 with 3:15 left in the third quarter.
The defenses took over again during the next two possessions.
“The defense played tough and gave us a chance to win,” Douglas offensive coordinator Ernie Monfiletto said. “Without the defense, we wouldn’t have had the opportunities we did.”
Wooster built its lead back up, 31-20, on a 25-yard field goal from the left hashmarks in the middle of the fourth quarter.
But, again, the Tigers didn’t fold. They cut the lead to 31-26 with 2:22 remaining when Griffith connected with Bill for a 58-yard touchdown pass. The touchdown, a fly pattern up the left side with Bill in one-on-one coverage, came on fourth-and-10 play. Bill made a terrific adjustment on the slightly-under thrown ball and caught it over his left shoulder as the Wooster defender started to slip and fall.
Douglas, forced to go for two points in order to get within a field goal, failed on its extra-points pass when a defender broke up a pass from Griffith to Beau Kruger in the short right corner of the end zone.
Douglas’ ensuing on sides kick also failed, but the defense held and forced a Wooster punt. The Wooster punter, who had five previous punts of 37 yards or less, got his foot into a 42-yarder and pinned Douglas back to its 11 with 45 seconds to play.
Griffith’s first-down pass, intended for Beau Kruger out to the right side, was broken up. His second and third-down passes, intended for Joel Kruger over the middle, sailed high. His fourth-down pass, intended for Bill up the right sideline, soared wide and out of bounds, officially ending the Tigers’ season.
The defense had struggled to find a way to stop the run this season, but it did a yeoman’s job against Wooster, the top-running team in the Northern 4A.
“They worked their butts off and played hard,” defensive coordinator Steve Wilcox said. “We had a pretty good scheme. We shut down the run. Most of the time, we were in the right place at the right time.”
The offensive line held its own, too, against the powerful Colts.
“The kids did a great job,” Monfiletto said. “They brought some pressure and caused us some problems early, but the kids rebounded and played well.
“I would go to battle any day with these kids,” Monfiletto added. “I have nothing but admiration for the kids and coach Rippee. I appreciated the freedom he gave me to run the offense. It comes from the top. He’s a great head coach and the kids did a great job.”