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Columbus-area high school football: 5 things we learned in OHSAA regional finals



And then, there were three.

Hilliard Bradley (Division I), Watterson (Division III) and Harvest Prep (Division V) are the last central Ohio high school football teams standing this fall, and all will practice on Thanksgiving as they prepare for state semifinal matchups Friday.

Harvest Prep won its fourth regional championship in eight seasons with a 22-0 shutout of Wheelersburg in Region 19.

Watterson has waited 13 years to return to the state semifinals, and the Eagles used a second-half comeback to top Bellefontaine 19-13 in Region 11.

Bradley is a regional champion for the first time. Perhaps fittingly, the Jaguars’ win in Region 3 was the most dramatic, a 35-28, double-overtime triumph over Upper Arlington at Historic Crew Stadium.

Here are five things we learned in the regional finals:

1. Fleharty leads Hilliard Bradley to first regional title

Bradley has enjoyed success since the school opened in 2009, but it had never won a regional championship until Friday, when it defeated UA for the second time this season.

Up next for Bradley (13-1) is two-time defending state champion Lakewood St. Edward (13-1) in a state semifinal at Arlin Field in Mansfield. 

The Jaguars, who also beat UA 24-22 on Sept. 22 in an OCC-Central contest, completed the sweep thanks to quarterback Bradyn Fleharty’s 2-yard touchdown run and the defense stopping UA on its offensive possession of the second overtime.

Fleharty injured his left ankle on the decisive score but hopes to play in the semifinal.

He rushed for 179 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries and completed 15 of 36 passes for 171 yards with two touchdowns and one interception against UA. His performance included a 61-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, giving his team a 21-14 lead. 

“I came here sophomore year and our senior class has been working towards this the past three years, and it means everything to us,” said Fleharty, who transferred to Bradley from Lima Bath. 

UA (10-4) entered the regional final on a six-game winning streak.

2. Watterson ends regional title drought

Watterson rallied past Bellefontaine for its ninth regional championship and first since 2010. The Eagles went on to win their second state title that year, with the other coming in 2002. 

The Eagles (13-1) will play Celina (12-2) in a state semifinal in Xenia. 

A.J. McAninch completed 16 of 24 passes for 179 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions against Bellefontaine. Zack Weber rushed for 97 yards and one score on 16 carries, and Jake Uhlenhake had nine catches for 75 yards and one touchdown. 

The win extended Watterson’s season into Thanksgiving week. Teams that reach the state semifinals traditionally practice on Thanksgiving.

“I’ve never experienced this (as the head coach), so I’m looking forward to it,” said coach Brian Kennedy, who is in his seventh season.

Kennedy joined the program as a freshman coach in 2004 and later guided the offensive and defensive linemen for four seasons before replacing Dan Bjelac as head coach in January 2017.

For Bellefontaine, Tavien St. Clair, an Ohio State commit, completed 17 of 25 passes for 152 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. 

“Going in, we’re not stopping that kid, and we’re not stopping the receiver (Riley Neer) because that kid is also the real deal,” Kennedy said. “We tried to disguise coverages, cheating a safety over at times when we had to, trying to get pressure. I thought we could get pressure with our defensive line, and they did. Any quarterback that gets pressure affects them. It has a negative impact. We didn’t want that kid to stand back there and pick us apart.”

3. Familiar formula powers Harvest Prep

The fourth-seeded Warriors (12-1) relied on their usual approach — a strong running attack and a stiff defense — to post their second shutout in three weeks and fourth consecutive win over Wheelersburg, the seventh seed in Region 19.

Two rushing scores from Lenny Wicks and another from Dezmond Porter accounted for Harvest Prep’s touchdowns, and the defense played well enough to overcome an interception and lost fumble.

Coach Milan Smith said Wheelersburg’s 3-4 defense bore similarities to that of Ironton, which Harvest Prep defeated 20-14 in a regional semifinal.

“We recognized that we had some advantages and just tried to do a good job of exploiting them,” Smith said. “Our backs were running hard. We were playing north and south and with good tempo, so we could expose a couple things (with Wheelersburg’s defense). We were hitting on all cylinders in our run game.”

Harvest Prep will face Perry (14-0) in a state semifinal Friday at Shelby.

4. Dublin Coffman’s plan worked, for a while

Springfield threw the first punch in the Division I, Region 2 final, getting a 74-yard touchdown run from Bay Bay Norman on its second play from scrimmage. But Coffman responded with drives of 12 and eight plays to take a 14-7 lead, and was on offense for 22 of the game’s first 33 snaps.

Not only was the sixth-seeded Shamrocks’ plan to keep Springfield’s explosive offense on the sideline as long as possible, but it’s the way they played all season in going 10-4 and getting to within one win of their first regional championship since 2007. The 12th-seeded Wildcats scored the game’s last two touchdowns to win 21-14.

Coffman ran for 173 of its 205 yards and did not complete a pass until its final drive.

“That’s how we play; that’s how we have to play,” coach Geron Stokes said. “That’s exactly what we expected out of Springfield. That talent matters. It matters. Defensively, they looked a little different, but you have to be able to run the football in November and we couldn’t do that in the second half.”

Quarterback Quinn Hart and running back Daven White combined for 141 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, but only 22 yards on 15 carries in the second.

5. Danville, West Jefferson fall to similar teams

No. 2 seeds West Jefferson (Division VI, Region 23) and Danville (Division VII, Region 25) saw their postseason runs come to an end against teams that succeed in the same ways that they had this year.

West Jefferson (12-2) turned the ball over twice — including a fumble returned for a touchdown — gave up a punt return for another score and was held off the scoreboard until the final minutes in a 42-7 loss to top-seeded Sugarcreek Garaway at Zanesville. Garaway averaged 39.4 points coming in to West Jefferson’s 38.1.

At Dover, Danville (13-1) took an early lead on a first-quarter safety as the result of a blocked punt but lost 31-8 to Dalton. The Blue Devils averaged 45.5 points through 13 games but were otherwise held to a late touchdown run from Cole Delaughder and fell short of their first regional title since 2017.


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