PIQUA — One-by-one, the Wapakoneta Redskins seniors stood before their younger teammates.
One-by-one, tears in their eyes, they told them, don’t forget this feeling.
And don’t let it happen again.
One of the greatest seasons in Wapakoneta football history came to a conclusion Friday night as the Trotwood-Madison Rams handed the Redskins a 27-6 defeat in a Division II regional semifinal at Piqua’s Alexander Field.
Wapak ends its season with a 10-2 record. The 2011 Redskins were just the third team in school history to win 10 games and the second to win a playoff game.
But none of that lessened the bitterness of the pill the seniors were forced to swallow.
“It sucks,” senior nose tackle Jim Knippen said. “You can’t describe it.”
Senior linebacker Josh Hartman said, “I’d do anything for one more week.”
Making the pill even more bitter were the thoughts of the ones that got away, the plays and the breaks the Redskins couldn’t take advantage of.
“Honestly, you look at the score and you think, ‘26-7, they got beat handily,’ ” Redskins varsity coach Doug Frye said. “But we were really on the verge of winning this football game and having a chance to win this football game.”
Trotwood coach Maurice Douglass didn’t see it that way.
“We should have beat them by more,” Douglass said. “I’ll just leave it at that. Our guys came out and overcame the adversity they had on the field. They did a good job. All I care about is the left-hand side [of the scoreboard]. If it’s 1 or if it’s 100, as long as we’re going on.
“They didn’t [stop us] on defense. We’ll just leave it at that. They didn’t stop us. We stopped ourselves. Along with some — we’ll just leave it at that.”
Told what Douglass had said, Frye responded, “I don’t know how to react to that, other than that Coach Douglass is an exceptional coach and he has exceptional talent and he should be proud of the way his kids played.”
The Rams gained 431 total yards of offense — 219 on the ground and 212 through the air.
Junior running back Israel Green led the way with 152 yards on just 14 carries (10.9 per carry) with a 46-yard touchdown run.
Despite giving up 431 yards, the Wapak defense only allowed three scores, and one of those came after a Trotwood interception gave the Rams the ball at the Redskins’ 14 yard line. Trotwood’s fourth score came on a 75-yard interception return by linebacker Mike McCray.
McCray was the difference maker in the game. His two third-quarter interceptions resulted in 14 Trotwood points and turned a 13-0 game into a 27-0 lead in a span of less than two minutes late in the third quarter.
“Mike did a great job,” Douglass said. “He’s a big-time ball player. We expect those things from him. He expects those things from himself.
“Some things were said in the paper up here on Thursday. He took it home and showed his mom what they said in the paper. And he came out here and showed who the real blue-collar workers were.”
Trotwood fumbled the ball away four times, all in the second half. But Wapak was unable to take advantage.
The Rams led 13-0 at the half and had not allowed the Redskins past the Trotwood 41 in the first half.
“Physically, up front, we never did get a push,” Frye said. “We never did get what we would call a ‘hat-hanger’ play, something that we could keep coming back to. You need a play like that against anyone. We really had a lot of difficulty getting to the perimeter on a regular basis.”
The Rams appeared ready to strike again when Green lost the ball at the Wapak 31.
The Redskins had to punt. But Trotwood’s Trai Mobley muffed the kick and Wapak got the ball back at the Trotwood 22, its best field position of the night.
Seven plays later, on a fourth-and-14 at the 15, junior quarterback Kyle Gibson found senior tight end Nic Sawmiller in the right side of the end zone for an apparent touuchdown.
But the Redskins were flagged for having an ineligible receiver downfield. On fourth-and 19 from the 20, Wapak ran a hook-and-ladder. Junior Josh Windle had the whole left sideline to himself, but junior Johnny Crawford couldn’t haul in Gibson’s pass and the Rams took over on downs.
“We really needed that touchdown that got called back,” Frye said. “If that would have gone in, we would have had a ballgame until the end. This is the type of game we knew we had to get some breaks.”
Trotwood went to work and marched all the way to the Wapak 1 yard line in eight plays.
But the Redskins stuffed quarterback Michael Simpson on third down and goal at the 1 and again on fourth down, forcing a fumble.
Wapak recovered the ball inside the 1 and moved out to the 16 on an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Rams.
“The first one, our D-line just came up and smashed their offensive line,” Knippen said. “We don’t care how big they are. The fourth down one was kind of funny. I didn’t have my helmet snapped or my mouthpiece in and we still stepped up and made a play.”
On Wapak’s second play, McCray snagged his first interception and returned it to the Redskins 14. Two plays later, Ashton Jackson scampered in from six yards out for his second touchdown of the night and suddenly it was a 20-0 Trotwood lead with 2:07 left in the third.
Wapak senior Kevin Kraft returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards to the Rams 23, setting up yet another Redskins opportunity. But McCray jumped the route on the fourth play and raced untouched 75 yards for the backbreaker.
“It hurts,” senior right guard Chris Schwartz said. “But you’ve got to bounce back from that stuff and we just didn’t.”
Senior running back Connor Pickens gave Wapak its lone score with a five-yard run with 1:49 to play. Pickens finished the night with 117 yards and a touchdown and the season with 1,917 yards and 29 TDs.
“I just can’t say enough about our group of seniors as the season finishes,” Frye said. “And I think, off of each group, we’re learning something and building this program.”