COLUMBUS, Ohio – Cuyahoga Heights‘ bid for its first OHSAA state football championship fell short in a 21-17 loss to Friday to Maria Stein Marion Local in the Division VI title game at Ohio Stadium.
Cuyahoga Heights’ opportunities to claim a comeback victory came after a defensive stop by senior linebacker Tyler Selig ripped the football from junior tight end Tyler Mescher in the endzone and then again after forcing Marion Local to turn the ball over on downs.
But in the Redskins’ final possession, a final incompletion with seven seconds remaining ended their chances.
Marion Local (14-1) won its ninth state title, handing the last unbeaten team in the OHSAA playoffs its first loss.
“We were right there on a number of occasions,” said Cuyahoga Heights coach Al Martin. “But I was really proud of the guys coming out in the second half when things didn’t look good. We talked in the locker room about playing loose, playing hard, playing with some fire in their bellies and they did that, that’s how they played all year.”
The Redskins (14-1) was first on the scoreboard after a 31-yard field by senior kicker Mark Shafer, but was scoreless for the rest of the first half. The lead was soon erased as senior running back Nate Moeller’s one-yard touchdown run gave the Flyers a 7-3 lead.
After a promising Cuyahoga Heights possession was stopped, Marion Local took control with a 99-yard scoring march that took 9:40 off the clock. The Flyers finished the 19-play drive with a one-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Duane Leugers for a 14-3 lead.
“They were moving the ball very well down the field,” Cuyahoga Heights quarterback Brett Lowther said. “We started to get to the point where we were getting frustrated because not many teams move the ball as well as they did on us. We got a little tired and just tried to make a play.”
Several Cuyahoga Heights defenders switched to offense after that drive, but on a 4th and 1 attempt turned the ball over on downs at their own 34. With a couple of minutes left before halftime, the Flyers answered with a 22-yard run by Leugers to give Marion Local an 18-point lead.
The Redskins had a good defensive series to start the second half, and the offense responded with a two-yard run by Lowther to cut the deficit to 21-10.
“At halftime I really thought (we were in good shape),” Marion Local coach Tim Goodwin said. “I thought we did what we wanted up front on both sides of the ball controlling the line of scrimmage, but obviously those seven points were pretty big.”
The Flyers turned the football over on their next possession as Moeller’s fumble was collected by Lowther. Two series later, Cuyahoga Heights LB Chad McDaniel blocked a punt that was recovered on the Flyers’ 1. Junior fullback Lucas D’Orazio converted the turnover into points with a dive over the goal line early in the fourth quarter.
The final four minutes were marked by turnovers. Marion Local sophomore cornerback Matt Rethman picked off a pass, and Lowther and Selig came up with a fumble and interception, respectively.
On Cuyahoga Heights’ last possession, the Redskins drove into Marion Local territory before its final passes fell incomplete.
“They were disciplined in how they played in the first half, but I couldn’t be more proud in how they played in the second,” Martin said. “They came out and gave us a chance.”
Leugers was the leading rusher with 25 carries for 113 yards and two TDs. Lowther finished as the leading passer, going 12-of-30 for 186 yards and one interception. Marion Local senior wide wideout Ryan Thobe led all receivers with six catches for 95 yards followed by junior split end Dylan Drummond with four catches for 87 yards.
Marion Local finished with 323 yards of offense compared to Cuyahoga Heights’ 233. The Flyers outran the Redskins 209-47.