By Gary R. Rasberry
TROY -- It was a tough challenge for the St. Marys Rough-riders.
Chaminade-Julienne boasted a strong offense that featured two Division I college prospects that helped the Eagles regularly average over 35 points a game. The Roughriders offered up a team focus and a desire to keep playing.
Focus and desire won out over talent and power as the Roughriders defeated the Eagles 21-13 in the Division III Region 12 final at Troy Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
The Roughriders (12-1) play Bishop Watterson of Columbus on Saturday at Upper Arlington's Moorhead Stadium in the state semifinals. C-J ends the season at 9-4.
"Our guys played with a tremendous amount of heart. That's the key thing," said St. Marys coach Doug Frye, who led the Roughriders to their first regional title since 1993, the year the Roughriders won their third state title. "We talked about it all week. Obviously, you look at the two teams, they have more talent. We don't have any Division I kids on our team, normally we don't. They have more talent than us, but talent doesn't win games. Teams win games. The team won the football game." St. Marys had to take up the challenge of containing the running of Brandon Harrison and the pass receiving of John Bonner.
Harrison, the Notre Dame prospect who has shined since star back Javon Ringer was injured, was not able to break open the big plays. In the second half, Harrison had just two carries for seven yards and finished with 13 carries and 41 yards, 30 under his season average.
The challenge to contain the 6-4 Bonner was a bigger task. The Eastern Michigan signee had several inches on his defender Corey Vossler. Bonner made nine catches for 121 yards.
"I was trying to hang on," said Vossler, who's listed at six-feet tall. "I was trying to hang with him somehow."
What kept the Eagles and quarterback Matt Bruggeman from breaking open the game with some big throwing was the pressure the Roughrider defense put on the quarterback. Nick Yahl got up close and personal on Bruggeman, sacking him four of the eight times Bruggeman was taken down. Bruggeman did pass for 261 yards but lost 22 yards rushing.
"I thought our defensive kids did a tremendous job," said Frye. "Their backs were against the wall a couple of times. Our defensive staff put together a great gameplan."
The defense was the key to the first two scores for the Roughriders. With 2 1/2 minutes left in the second quarter and trailing 7-0, St. Marys forced a fumble on Harrison, recovering the ball at the Rider 40. On a third-and-nine, Vossler went around the corner and moved the ball up 34 yards, getting the first St. Marys first down of the game and put the ball at the Eagle 25. After Justin Nagel rushed for another 13, then left after straining a hamstring, Vossler found an open Bo Frye in the end zone with 50 seconds left. Ross Quellhorst's extra point tied the game going into the break.
On the first series of the second half, C-J was moving the ball. Bruggeman went for the keeper but lost the ball and Adam Williams scooped it up to give St. Marys first-and-10 from the Rider 42.
"They've been like that all season," said coach Frye about the turnover recoveries. "They capitalize on mistakes. ... They played extremely hard."
The offense, which was down in the first half, came to life. Frye and Scott Laman, replacing Nagel, began to move the ball with determination, getting the ball to the Eagle 19. Vossler changed things up with a pass to Adam Johns, who was forced out at the one-yard line. Frye powered the ball in from there to give St. Marys the 13-7 lead.
"We got pretty fired up," said Vossler about what was said at halftime. "We looked at each other and said we were not going to lose this game."
"I think we just got better in the second half," said coach Frye. "We did what we do better. We got more physical. We attacked some things we saw in the first half. ... I thought we wore on them in the second half. It was good to see."
After Chaminade went three-and-out on the next series, the Rougriders put together a 13-play drive that took 5:27 off the clock. Vossler snuck in the final yard. On the two-point conversion try, Vossler rolled right and found an open Laman to put the Riders up 14.
Chaminade now tried to pass the ball looking to get two quick scores. Bruggeman led the team on a drive that saw 18 plays in just 3:20 but turned the ball over when a fourth-and-10 play from the 10 was tipped away by Cliff Powell with 4:56 left.
St. Marys tried to run time of the clock as much as possible, but had to punt on fourth down from the 19. C-J got the ball back on the 47 and drove to the end zone with Bruggeman scoring on a sneak on fourth-and-inches at the one. The try for two was long as St. Marys got the ball back up eight with 1:48.
Vossler moved the chains on the first play with an 18-yard run. After a delay of game call, Vossler added three yards and Cook came up with five to set up third-and-nine. Frye went up the middle and picked up 15 yards for the first down with 40 seconds left. With the Eagles out of timeouts, Vossler just went down on one knee to run out the clock.
Vossler finished with 95 yards rushing while Frye carried 24 times for 86 yards.
"I feel great for our community and school system, our coaching staff and our kids," coach Frye said of winning the regional title. "(St. Marys) is a football town. That's what we hang our hats on. We now can hang hats on straight now."