MECHANICSBURG — The reigning Division VI defensive player of the year proved to be too much for Greeneview on both sides of the ball.
Greeneview went on the road and pushed the No. 2-ranked team in Division VI to its limits, but Mechanicsburg held on for a 31-21 win on Saturday to advance in the OHSAA playoffs.
Jake Hurst won one of the state’s top honors last season, and this year became the leading rusher in the OHC. The Mechanicsburg senior carried the ball 24 times for 210 yards against the Rams on offense and made 19 tackles on defense.
“I’m extremely proud of our team,” head coach Ryan Haines said. “I told them there is nothing to be ashamed of with the way you fight your tail off. We had some opportunities there late in the third and early fourth and we tried to slow them down but those two backs they have, (Aaron) Conley and Hurst, are too good.”
Leading after halftime and scoring on its first possession of the second half, Greeneview was in trouble of letting the rematch with the Indians get away from them again.
Trailing by 11 with 5:58 to go in the third quarter, the Rams turned the tables and began to take control of the game, putting Mechanicsburg on its heels.
A trick play pass attempt which went awry on second-and-seven nearly derailed things before they got started, but Cole DeHaven scrambled for 11 yards on the next play to get a first down. The Rams ran on the next seven plays and moved down to the Indians’ 33 as the fourth quarter opened.
Facing a fourth-and-one, DeHaven threw up a heave to Carter Williams into double coverage who leapt to come down with a spectacular grab at the one-yard line. DeHaven ran in for a touchdown on the next play, and completed the octopus by also converting a two-point conversion attempt to close out the 13-play, 68-yard drive and cut the Rams’ deficit to 24-21 with 10:30 remaining.
Instead of kicking deep, Haines opted for an onside kick which caught Mechanicsburg off guard. A scramble on the ground saw Craig Finley come away with the ball at Mechanicsburg’s 47 to put Greeneview back in business.
“I saw it pop out and had to take the opportunity to pick that thing up for our team in a three-point game,” Finley said. “… Picking that up in a second-round game against the No. 1 team in our region, you don’t get a better feeling than that one.”
Haines said it was the shot in the arm the team needed.
On the Rams’ ensuing drive, DeHaven put the offense on his shoulders by carrying the ball five times to move down to Mechanicsburg’s 15-yard line.
A third-and-six run by DeHaven was stopped short of the marker, bringing on Sean Leonard to try and tie the score. Mechanicsburg’s Zane Hitchcock was able to leap over the center and get a hand on the ball to deflect it, falling into the end zone to maintain the Indians’ lead.
“The block wasn’t his fault,” Haines said of Leonard. “To be honest, we had issues on special teams last week. We tried to preach and stress it a bit, but we had some letdowns and I take ownership of that.”
From there, Hurst took over and moved Mechanicsburg down the field until he scored a TD from six-yards out to put the game away with 1:12 to go.
DeHaven finished the game with 69 yards rushing on 20 carries and threw for a season-high 131 yards on seven-of-11 passing.
“That’s one thing we talked about in the coaches’ office this week was how much Cole has grown and his ownership of the offense,” Haines said. “It was evident as the year went on. I’m just extremely proud of him.”
“Cole is a hell of a player,” Finley said. “He passes and runs and our offense revolved around him at this point. We got some good plays and more passes than I expected.”
Cooper Payton led a strong defensive effort making 11 tackles, with William Reichley, Logan England, Cohen Hickman, and Williams each having at least five.
Greeneview had won six straight games coming into the game after a 1-4 start to the year, with the team’s last loss coming at Mechanicsburg in a 35-10 loss on Sept. 17 which saw the Rams trail 14-10 at halftime.
The winning streak saved Greeneview’s season as it led to an OHC South Division championship with a perfect 5-0 record and sent the Rams from potentially looking in from the outside of the postseason race to earning a first-round home game with a No. 8-seed in Region 24.
“Our last loss was against these guys,” Haines said. “We were sitting 1-4, September wasn’t real fun, but it’s a testament to my assistant coaches and to my kids because we continued to come out and play positive and slowly righted that ship. We got to hang an OHC South Division banner which will never come down.”
Both teams’ offenses were grinders down the field to open the game with a pair of touchdowns, but Greeneview missed its extra point attempt to trail 7-6 early in the second quarter.
The Rams were down 15-6 with three minutes until halftime, but quickly were able to cover 82 yards to score before the break. Assisted a pair of 16 and 40-yard passes both thrown to Reichley, DeHaven’s 1-yard TD run made the score 15-13 with 50 seconds left in the second quarter.
Mechanicsburg was able to cap off a key drive with the limited time remaining before halftime by kicking 28-yard field goal as time expired to give the Indians an 18-13 lead.
Greeneview may potentially return almost its entire team next season with only four seniors making up this year’s roster.
Haines said he wished his players nothing but the best in their futures and believes they left fingerprints on the program which will remain for years to come.
“Football is so crazy to spend 11 months with teammates that end up as your brothers,” Finley said,one of the four seniors. “I know they’ll keep fighting next year and we gave this all we got, so you can’t hang your head. We gave it our all.”
Contact Steven Wright at 937-502-4498 and follow on Twitter @Steven_Wright_.