Tim Rogers

NEW PHILADELPHIA: Much has been made all season about the offense produced by St. Vincent-St. Mary.

It was the defense that kept the Irish spirit alive on Friday when it came up with a crucial fourth-quarter stop, preserving a 17-9 victory over Columbus Marion-Franklin in a Division III state semifinal game on a freezing night at Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium.

The victory kept the Irish unbeaten at 14-0 and means they will play Trotwood-Madison, which throttled Clyde, also on Friday. It also means they have a chance to win back-to-back state titles for the first time since 1981-82.

The Irish, ranked first in the final state poll, were thrust into a position of having to protect an eight-point lead after failing on two fourth-down attempts on its only two possessions of the fourth quarter.

The first failed attempt came with a little more than six minutes to play at the Marion-Franklin 19-yard line. Junior Vince Lockett, operating out of the wildcat formation, was stopped on a fourth-and-5 play, one yard short of the first down.

Marion-Franklin, as dangerous offensively as the Irish, could not move the ball as the St. V-M defense forced a three-and-out with 5:11 to go. Following a punt that put the ball at the 39, the Irish drove to the Red Devils’ 41, but Newman Williams was stopped cold when one yard was needed.

The Irish defense, led by Dante Booker, Aaron and Anthony Adkins, Dre’k Brumley, Nathan Bischof and Williams, held the Red Devils to 178 yards while the offense rolled up 354. The Irish had the ball for 23:25 to 13:34 for Marion-Franklin. Marion-Franklin, behind Houdini-like quarterback Justin Tyler, drove to the Irish 16 but had no timeouts left and two incomplete passes gave the ball back to St. V-M with 1:01 to go. The Irish ran out the clock from that point.

“That was going the hard way,” said Irish coach Dan Boarman, responding to a remark about the return to the title game. “We didn’t take advantage of a couple of times when we should have put the ball in. Some of those fourth-down situations, which we’ve made in the past, weren’t there. But, the bottom line is that we held a very good football team to nine points.”

St. V-M scored once in the second half when Aaron Bushner completed a 54-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Tyrece Speaight on the third play of the second half.

St. V-M’s first touchdown also came in rapid fashion as Parris Campbell went 82 yards on the first play the Irish ran from scrimmage.

But Campbell, who gained 193 yards on 23 carries, said the Red Devils made it tough going.

“Those were the toughest yards all season,” said Campbell, who now has 1,586 yards, 30 yards short of the school’s single-season record. “Give credit to Marion-Franklin. They were the toughest defense we’ve seen all year.”

Marion-Franklin (12-2) answered Speaight’s score immediately when Tyler ran 16 yards for a touchdown with 10:14 left. The point-after kick was blocked.

Defenses dominated the first half, which ended with the Irish on top 10-3. Self-inflicted wounds hurt both teams.

The Irish missed a golden chance in the second quarter after a poor Marion-Franklin punt from the end zone gave them the ball at the Red Devils’ 20. A Campbell run got the ball to the 7, but the drive fizzled and the Irish had to settle for a 21-yard field goal by senior Evan Cunningham.

The Red Devils intercepted two Bushner passes, both on ill-advised attempts. Linebacker Willie Barns intercepted a short pass over the middle at the Irish 25 and returned the ball to the St. V-M 1-yard line. However, the Red Devils fumbled on second down and Speaight recovered the ball at the 1.

Marion-Franklin scored when Shawn Thomas kicked a 36-yard field goal with 1:05 left in the half, following another interception to make it 10-3 at halftime.

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