BELLEFONTAINE -- Seldom losing doesn't make losing easier.
That was the hard lesson for Clear Fork on Saturday night after the Colts dropped a 38-7 decision to St. Marys Memorial in a Division IV regional title game at Bellefontaine's AcuSport Stadium.
When you have lost just twice in two seasons, both in playoff games, the season-ending feelings are tough to swallow.
But after spending 45 minutes in the locker room talking to his team, Clear Fork coach Dave Carroll said hanging their heads is the last thing any Colts should do.
“When we started this season, you always talk among yourselves about where we were going to be and a majority of the coaches thought we would be 7-3 or 8-2,” Carroll said. “We questioned if we would have the leadership and the work ethic after losing last year’s group.?
"These guys rose above and beyond what they and a lot of people in the community expected. They surprised us. These guys have so much to be proud of. You have to remember, before last year, our kids weren’t even sniffing the playoffs since 2010.
"This is all new to our kids the last two years and hopefully, we won’t have to wait that long to do it again. When it becomes something you do on a regular basis, you get better at it. We will learn from this."
Clear Fork, which has posted back-to-back 10-0 regular seasons, finished the 2018 campaign with a 12-1 record, most wins in school history, and consecutive Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference titles.
St, Marys, coached by Carroll's long-time friend Doug Frye, is now 12-1 and headed to the state semifinals next weekend against Cincinnati Wyoming (13-0), which defeated London Saturday night.
The other Division IV state semifinal will match Girard (12-1), a 43-18 winner over Hubbard on Saturday, against Licking Valley (10-3), which knocked off St. Clairsville, 30-0.
GROUND AND POUND: As expected, the Roughriders pounded the ball from their Wing T offense, finishing with 403 yards on 49 carries, against a Clear Fork defense that allowed just 81 yards per game coming in.
Junior Ty Howell set the tone on the second play of the game for St. Marys, breaking through the Clear Fork line and racing 72 yards for a TD. Howell finished with 97 yards on just 10 carries.
Clear Fork immediately responded, mounting a drive that ended with a 7-yard TD run by senior Trevon Trammell, tying the game with 8:20 left in the first quarter.
Clear Fork fumbled the ball away on its next two possessions, the first of which led to a 29-yard field goal by senior Gabe Vendever and the second to a 1-yard run by senior Sean Perry (17 carries, 142 yards) with just 27 seconds left in the first half.
“Our No.1 key to victory in the scouting report this week was to eliminate our turnovers,” said Carroll, whose team overcame three first-half turnovers in last week's regional semfinal win.
“We moved the ball in the first half and then we had those two turnovers. In high school football, momentum swings quick," Carroll said.
WORN DOWN: Clear Fork, which came in averaging 43 points per game, simply couldn't muster any offense in the second half.
That allowed St. Marys and its 88-man roster to impose its will, scoring on two TD passes to Perry and Howell from senior QB Braeden Dunlap, and a 9-yard run by junior Ty Schlosser (10 carries, 103 yards).
“Our defense did a really good job for two and a half to three quarters,” Carroll said. “A big secret to St. Marys’ success is they have a lot of kids who play one way. That is the ideal situation being able to one-platoon their players especially their big boys up front. They wore us down. It’s a physical, pound, pound, pound.”
Frye, who has led St. Marys to the playoffs each of the last three seasons, when asked about his team's offensive output after the turnovers, chose instead to praise the Roughriders' opponent.
"Clear Fork, and the kids, the community and Dave Carroll, they all do a tremendous job," Frye said. "What great support the Clear Fork community had tonight. What a great job Dave and Mike (Carroll) do in the valley. What a great program. We were lucky enough tonight to get some turnovers and take advantage of it."
Carroll returned the compliment in his post-game comments.
"They are a good football team ... tremendous staff, tremendous tradition," Carroll said.
STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: St. Marys had 14 first downs, compared to nine for Clear Fork. The Roughriders ran 52 plays and gained 440 yards. The Colts has 48 plays and finished with 198 yards, roughly half their season average.
In addition to Trammell's 58 rushing yards, senior QB Jared Schaefer gained 37 yards on 15 attempts while completing 13 of 18 passes for 97 yards. Trammell had four catches for 44 yards and senior A.J. Blubaugh had five receptions for 33 yards.
Senior linebacker Jay Swainhart led Clear Fork with 10 tackles. Senior defensive lineman Michael Chillemi had nine and Schaefer had seven.
Clear Fork loses 10 seniors to graduation, including Trammell, Zach Homerick, Caden Flynn, Schaefer, Blunbaugh, Swainhart, Hunter Tollison, Chillemi, James Watts and Keith Stepenson.
Carroll praised the senior class, which posted a 23-2 record the past two seasons.
"They are a great group of kids," he said.
"It hurts right now, of course, and no one wanted the season to be over with," Carroll said. "The most wins in school history, most playoff games played in a season, and perhaps the most prolific offense through the first 10 games, back-to-back MOAC championships. These guys have so much to be proud of."