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Tigers lose heartbreaker on final play

Correspondent photo / Michael Taylor Springfield’s Marshall Yelkin (12) reacts as Coldwater celebrates its game-winning field goal as time expired. The Cavaliers beat Springfield, 38-35, in the Division VI state championship game Sunday.

MASSILLON — The 2020 season deserved such an ending.

The Springfield Tigers probably didn’t.

The Division VI state finals seemed destined to be won by the team that had possession of the ball last.

That team was Coldwater as a last-second field goal sealed the deal and handed the Springfield Tigers their first and only loss of the season in a 38-35 heartbreaker.

“We gave up a couple big plays, and when you do that in the championship game, the other team’s going to end up capitalizing on it, and they did,” Tigers coach Sean Guerriero said. “I’m so proud of how our kids fought back. In the second half, I thought we played really well.

“I give credit to our kids on how they kept playing and how they handled this season. I’m so proud of them.”

The 26-yard game-sealing field goal was set up by a 72-yard punt return by Zack McKibben, who shook multiple Springfield tacklers on his way to the Tigers’ 11-yard line. The Tigers faced fourth-and-6 with less than 30 seconds remaining prior to the punt.

“We just let too many big plays go,” Guerriero said. “When you give them an opportunity, they’re going to capitalize.”

After a short rush to center the kicker, Brady Klingshirn split the uprights just as the clock hit zero to give Coldwater its seventh state title.

At halftime, however, it looked like the Cavaliers had taken complete control of the game. While the score was 21-14 at the half, momentum was solely with Coldwater after two quick scores in the final minutes of the first half.

With 3 minutes remaining in the second quarter, Cavaliers quarterback Myles Blasingame hit McKibben on a 5-yard pass to tie the game at 14.

On Springfield’s ensuing play from scrimmage, Coldwater recovered a fumble, and five plays later, Blasingame put his team ahead with a 1-yard rush.

The Tigers were down but not out.

On their second possession of the half, after recovering a Coldwater fumble, Springfield drove down the field. On a third-and-1, quarterback Beau Brungard broke through the Cavalier defense for a 42-yard touchdown, knotting the game at 21.

That fumble recovery was just the spark the Tigers needed to get going.

“That turnover kind of got us rolling a little bit,” Guerriero said. “When they turned the ball over, our kids capitalized on it and put us back in the game. They just kept fighting.”

Brungard, a junior quarterback, shined in his second state finals appearance, finishing with 382 all-purpose yards (261 rushing and 121 passing) and five touchdowns.

Brungard instantly redirected the praise.

“I couldn’t do it (alone),” Brungard said. “I’ve got to give God all the glory and I got to give all the credit to my line. They did so good for me. Everyone that was blocking for me, I couldn’t do it without them. I just tried to make guys miss.”

Blasingame broke off a 53-yard rush to retake the lead for Coldwater with 2:09 remaining in the third quarter. After that both teams traded punts, Brungard re-tied the game, capping off a 4-minute drive with an 18-yard rush.

Brungard ran in the go-ahead touchdown with 2:44 remaining. A little over a minute later, Coldwater responded again with a 36-yard pass to Tyler Schwieterman, tying the game at 35 with 1:36 to go.

The Tigers failed to get into field goal range, and opted to punt. McKibben’s long return set the Cavaliers up with 8 seconds remaining, and they were able to seal the deal.

The two teams combined for a total 878 yards of offense, with the Tigers’ share being 457.

Springfield graduates a class of 11, including kicker Clayton Medvec and wide receiver Lukas Yemma, who were staples for the Tigers’ playoff runs the last two seasons. The senior class was crucial in leading the team this season.

“All year they’ve led this team in more ways than one,” Guerriero said. “A lot of kids lead by example and do some unbelievable things. I’m just proud of how they ended up playing and how they carried themselves.”

In the five postseason games leading up to this contest, Springfield outscored its opponents by a combined 168-76, with 48 of those points coming from the thrilling regional final against Norwayne.

The Tigers end the year at 11-1 and battled from August until the final buzzer. In a season so tumultuous, Guerriero is grateful for his kids’ resilience.

“You feel so bad for our kids because they played their butts off, and we didn’t come on the winning edge of it,” Guerriero said. “I’m just proud of how our kids have carried themselves throughout the year, have carried themselves in these four quarters — they never gave up.

“They believed in what we were doing. This has been a season where our kids have never given up on us and have always made plays. It just came out on the wrong end this time.”

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