By RICK THORP
For The Intelligencer
CENTERBURG, Ohio - Monroe Central's defense faced a challenge of the tallest order Friday night from one of the state's most potent offenses.
But, in the end, it cut it down to size.
The Seminoles stuffed Centerburg on a last-gasp final drive in the closing moments to top the Trojans, 15-9, in an Ohio Division VI, Region 21 quarterfinal in Knox County.
For their efforts, Coach Jay Circosta's 8-3 club - the No. 6 seed in the region - will face Columbus Bishop Ready next Friday night at a site to be determined Sunday by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
Ready downed Oak Hill, 48-6, on Friday night.
Veteran Monroe Central coach Jay Circosta didn't want to even think about Ready as he was congratulated by a myriad of well-wishers looking to escape the chilly temperatures. He simply wanted to bask in the warm glow of a cherished playoff triumph that ended Centerburg's perfect season on its home turf.
"I'm telling, ya,'' he said, "I can?t say enough about our kids and our coaches.
"Coach (Dave) Schuerman and Coach (Josh) Ischy put together one heck of a gameplan defensively and the kids played their hearts out.
"Offensively, we stuttered at times, but we came up with the big play when we had to and we overcame some adversity."
Circosta was extremely pleased about holding Centerburg's high-flying offense to 265 total yards.
"We played super defensively," he said. "That?s a good football team we beat. Anytime you're playing a 10-0 team an a team that's averaging 40-some points a game and has a quarterback like they have, you deserve a lot of credit."
Neither team did anything flashy in the first half, but the Seminoles outdueled the Trojans and carried a 7-6 lead into halftime.
Centerburg came out of the locker room on fire, taking the ball right down the field.
After a run for no gain by Austin Glasscock to open the half, quarterback Tyler Stoyle hit Jake Stewart for 19 yards and Blake Bramer for 12 to get the Trojans into Monroe Central territory.
Later in the drive, Stoyle connected with Brendan Mapes for 29 yards.
Monroe Central's defense tightened as Centerburg neared the end zone and the Trojans were forced to settle for a Sterling Armstrong 31-yard field goal. But it gave the hosts a 9-7 lead.
Undaunted, the Seminoles started a big drive of their own.
Quarterback Curtis Nixon found tight end Gavin Morton over the middle for 24 yards to get the Noles to the Centerburg 36. Then, on the next play, Nixon took the snap and rolled right. He worked his way up field, broke a tackle at the 25, and ran into the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown.
Nixon hit Morton for the 2-point conversion in the left side of the end zone to make the score 15-9.
"That was huge," Circosta said of coming right back down the field and responded to Centerburg's score. "One other time we had a chance to score in close and we didn't."
From there, linebacker Mike Jones and the Seminoles defense took over.
Centerburg went four-and-out on its ensuing possession. A bad punt gave the Seminoles good field possession at the Trojans 34.
Monroe Central drove to the 17, but turned the ball over on downs. However, the field position battle had turned in their favor with 1:33 left in the third.
The Trojans started to garner momentum on the drive, which carried into the final quarter.
On third-and-18 and their 34, Stoyle scramble and appeared on his way to a first down near midfield. But he coughed the ball up and Monroe Central's Levi Brown recovered it, giving the Seminolves more opportunity to take time off the clock.
Monroe Central used almost six minutes in driving inside the Centerburg 10. One of the key plays on the drive was a diving 27-yard grab by Jarrett Hooper.
"What a catch that freshman made," Circosta said. "Look in the difference that catch made in field possession."
The drive stalled at the 8 and Tanner Potts attempted a 25-yard field goal. The kick was wide right, but Centerburg was faced with having to drive 80 yards in four minutes.
The Trojans reached the Monroe Central 49. On first down, however, Mike Jones sacked Stoyle for a 3-yard loss.
Stoyle hit Stewart for no gain on the next play. Stewart's passes on third and fourth down fell incomplete, triggering a massive celebration on the Monroe Central sideline.
"He's done that all year," Circosta said of Jones.
Now, the Seminoles, winners of eight of their last nine, will start preparing for another challenge.
"We live to play another week," Circosta said.