Photos by Chris Whitacre
Story by Jeff Gates
COLUMBUS – It just wasn’t in the cards.
Sometimes when playing cards, all you can do is lay your best hand on the table.
Unfortunately, even the best of hands lose if your opponent has a few aces up their sleeve.
On a night when London High School outplayed Granville on the gridiron, they fell just short on the scoreboard as the Red Raiders saw their season come to an abrupt end as the Blue Aces were victorious 15-14 in a Division III State Semi-Final, played at Hamilton Township High School.
A valiant comeback fell just short for a tremendous Red Raider football team, led by a strong senior class.
As the fourth quarter mid-point approached, the Red Raiders found the deck stacked against them as they still trailed by nine points.
Showing the grit and determination they exhibited all season, London took advantage of great field position following a poor Granville punt. A solid run by Ayden Cooper set up a 10-yard Dylan Combs to Andrew Sims TD. Combs then connected with Isaiah Jones for a two-point conversion to pull London within one with just under six minutes remaining.
The LHS defense held to get the ball back, but in the end they turned the ball over on downs, and Granville ran out the clock.
As the game began, London ran the ball very well, shuffling it perfectly between Antwaun Burns and Cooper. A smooth trip down the field was stymied by a holding penalty, eventually resulting in a punt.
The defense’s first time on the field was stellar. With outstanding efforts by Isaiah Jones, Thadd Huff, Sean Johns, Jonathan Schooley, and others, the Blue Aces lost four yards on their opening possession. But as luck would have it, the Granville punter uncorked a kick that bounced and rolled, landing 70 yards down field.
Not flinching, Burns took off on a 41-yard jaunt. Just past midfield, an untimely chop block penalty caused the Red Raiders to punt again.
Thus far in the game, the LHS D had done an admirable job bottling up Blue Ace star running back Devon Haley. Approaching a third-and-two, all bets were on Haley to get the call.
Granville pulled an ace from their sleeve as QB Carsyn Crouch flipped the ball over the London defense and into the arms of teammate Christian Hilton who scampered for a 55-yard TD as time expired in the first quarter.
London was forced to punt again and Granville embarked on an 11-play drive that culminated in them turning it over on downs. In the midst of the drive, the Blue Aces recovered their own fumble for the second of three times in the game, and lost QB Crouch who suffered an injury.
Once they got the ball back with 3:45 remaining to the half, the Red Raiders continued their dominance on the ground, again with the Burns-Cooper duo.
Facing a fourth and two from the 11 yard line with 26 remaining until the break, LHS threw down a winner as Jones took the handoff and muscled his way around the right side for a TD run. Unfortunate circumstances happened on the extra point attempt, and London found themselves trailing 7-6, with what everyone was thinking would be the halftime score.
Everyone, that is, except Granville’s shifty speedster Haley.
Taking the handoff, Haley flew through the Red Raider defenders like a comet, bobbing and weaving around would-be tacklers, hitting pay dirt with one second remaining before half following a 60-yard scamper. A two-point (now Granville QB) Tyler Ernsberger toss to Hilton put the top-seeded Blue Aces up 15-6 at the intermission.
The second half opened with great plays on defense by Schooley, Huff, Antonio Burns and Cheney Gross.
LHS fumbled it away as soon as they got it, and then stopped Granville again as soon as they got it.
London had another Burns-Cooper drive (this one 15 plays) that ended with the Red Raiders turning it over by an eyelash at the nine yard line.
The next time London got the ball, they would tally the game’s final points, coming just one short.
While the outcome was not what they had hoped, Coach Kyle Cutler’s Red Raiders went down swinging, once again showing their determination to keep climbing – while building many memories along the way.