FRANKLIN FURNACE — At first, it was a special night for the Green Bobcats —hosting their first football playoff game, and in their brand-spanking new stadium.
By the end of Friday night’s opening-round affair for the Division VII and Region 27 postseason, it had become a special night for Notre Dame senior Dylan Seison, a special night for Titans’ special teams, and a special night in Notre Dame program history.
Seison scored four touchdowns and made both of the Titans’ defensive interceptions, Gavin Hart had 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, and ninth-seeded Notre Dame defeated eighth-seeded Green a wild shootout rematch from Oct. 1 —as the Titans topped the Bobcats 45-36 to bookend October with wins.
Wins over the Bobcats that is.
Notre Dame rallied past Green 29-21 in the two teams’ Southern Ohio Conference Division I bout at Spartan Municipal Stadium, which handed the Bobcats their first loss — after six wins to open the campaign.
From there, injuries and diminished depth took their toll on Green —as it finished the season with five consecutive losses.
The Titans, which momentarily reversed course on their season with that win, triumphed twice more — before falling against archrival East 22-16 in the regular-season finale.
Both teams are 6-5, but Notre Dame didn’t want to end its uneven season still seeking its first state playoff win since 2000.
Back then, only four teams qualified for the postseason per region —unlike the 16 clubs coming out of each now.
None of the current Titans had even been born yet of course, but wanted to make amends for a regular season that saw its struggles at times —hitting a low point actually in losing to the visiting Tartans.
The athletic standout Seison, quarterback Wyatt Webb, two-way linemen Carter Campbell and Dominic Sparks, and the other NDHS seniors stepped up and stood out in pushing past the pesky Bobcats.
“Our kids, especially our seniors really rose to the occasion. Especially in the second half and late in the game. I am just thankful our kids come out and showed up to play, and our coaches coached these guys up hard and to play four quarters,” said veteran Notre Dame head coach Bob Ashley. “We were coming off a really tough loss to East, and I honestly didn’t know how we would respond. Kids did a nice job and it was a total team effort in all three phases. It’s a big win for our program.”
The Bobcats, buoyed by three first-half touchdown bursts (Landan Lodwick 56-yard TD run, Abe McBee 63-yard and 54-yard TD runs), battled back from a 21-6 deficit to take a 22-21 second-quarter advantage — before Abe McBee’s short scoring runs within six minutes and 39 seconds of each other in the third quarter gave Green the lead again (36-31).
But the Titans took control from there, as Notre Dame’s special teams —particularly its kickoff and return units —always seemed to be a step ahead.
McBee scored his fourth touchdown only four seconds into the final period, and ran in the two-point conversion run to make it 36-31 Bobcats.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Bobcats’ kick went to Luke Cassidy, who handed off on a reverse to the playmaking Seison, who then sprinted outside and almost went untouched — dashing 80 yards to the end zone for another tide-turning touchdown.
Webb ran in the two-point conversion for the 39-36 lead a mere 15 seconds later, although Seison and even Hart weren’t done in stamping their impacts.
Four plays later, the Bobcats punted for 34 yards for their only attempt of the game —but Seison returned it 54 yards to the Green 15-yard-line, looking to make it a double-digit lead.
Webb handed Hart the ball for the two-play and 54-second Titan scoring drive, as Hart went in from 10 yards out —making it 45-36 with 7:47 remaining.
No doubt, Seison’s happy returns within three fourth-quarter minutes of each other made a definite difference —as did Notre Dame dialing up two recoveries of short yet hard-to-handle Seison kickoffs in the opening dozen minutes and 15 seconds.
The Titans scored off the first of those, driving eight plays and 54 yards with three first downs in only three-and-a-half minutes.
Hart had his first TD run from two yards away, part of his 15-carry, 95-yard first half.
But back to special teams, Ashley deferred to the Titans’ special teams coach —Jason Coleman — calling upon Seison’s pool-cue kinda kickoffs.
“The reverse on the kickoff return was planned. Those onsides, they look like it, but Dylan (Seison) just toes the ball and gets it on the ground, and just mishits it,” he said. “Our goal with those is to get the ball on the ground and see what happens. Those were not called onsides.”
“Our kids worked hard on special teams all week long in practice and it paid off tonight. We executed very well,” added Ashley. “With the kickoff return after they scored, that really shifted momentum in our favor.”
Green coach Chad Coffman concurred, as his Bobcats also endured a missed extra-point kick and a blocked extra-point kick.
“Special teams was a big deal. We had a lot of tape on them, and we knew they pooch-kicked, but we were preparing for it all week. But it just killed us, along with struggles on our kickoff coverage. We needed to cover that punt and we didn’t, and our extra points have been pretty good all year, but we missed two tonight,” he said. “It’s the difference in the game.”
In addition, the Bobcats’ game-opening kickoff trickled out of bounds —as Seison returned the second attempt 20 yards to the Titans’ 48.
On the game’s second snap, Webb went deep downfield to an open Cassidy —connecting with the freshman for 48 yards to inside the Bobcats’ five.
Seison scored the first of his four paydirt trips, and the first of his two first-quarter touchdown runs, on a nine-yard end around only two plays later —and with only two minutes and 16 seconds gone by.
Besides his kick returns, and kickoff craftiness, he carried six times for 38 yards and scored twice —the second a 12-yard run to cap a seven-play, 65-yard and four-minute and 45-second scoring drive with 1:23 to play in the opening quarter.
That made it 21-6 with Coleman Shaffer’s extra point, as following a Shaffer 29-yard field goal that made it 24-22 Notre Dame, Seison struck again with a mere 15 seconds to play in the half.
The Bobcats lost a fumble with 37 seconds showing, as the Titans took over at their own 37.
Hart had gains of 15 and 20 yards to the Bobcats’ 28 —setting up Webb throwing to the end zone in Seison’s direction, and amid three Green defenders.
Somehow, and someway, Seison went up and came down with the pigskin amongst the would-be blanket coverage —landing for the touchdown to make it 31-22 with Shaffer’s second and final extra point.
“They score a touchdown with 15 seconds left in the half where we have three defenders right there and the ball hits us off our chest. It hits right off Nate’s (Brannigan) chest, Seison is right there on the ground, and the ball just fell in his hands,” said Coffman, of that touchdown. “That was a huge disaster play for us.”
Seison wasn’t done though, believe it or not, and likely was just getting started with that touchdown reception — and interception of Green quarterback Jon Knapp on the first half’s final play.
Following his heroics in the return game in the fourth stanza, and only a minute after Notre Dame upped the lead to 45-36, Seison intercepted Knapp again —in Titan territory at the 38.
“Dylan Seison just took over the game, man,” said Ashley. “Just did a fantastic job.”
But so too did the Titans turning the tables against the Bobcats’ running attack.
Following the three first-half touchdown scampers that combined for 163 yards and kept the Bobcats in it, their longest play following their 24-22 deficit was their only pass completion —a 29-yarder from Knapp to Gabe McBee.
The longest rush was 25 yards by Blake Smith, as Abe McBee’s second-half scoring runs covered eight and three yards —capping drives of five first downs, 10 plays, 65 yards and five minutes and 17 seconds and four first downs, nine plays, 61 yards and four minutes and 55 seconds.
The second of those made it 36-31, with Nathaniel Brannigan running in both two-point conversion runs, but then Seison returned the ensuing kickoff to the house —and Newfound Glory could be cued from there.
Green’s final three possessions ended with its punt, Seison’s second interception following two plays, and Knapp sacked for a 10-yard loss on its last.
“Just personnel, getting some different kids in different positions. We were running in and out of five-man or six-man fronts all night long,” said Ashley. “Just basically got in a groove, got kids in the right spots, and our kids responded.”
“We competed, we made plays, we faced adversity and answered a lot of that, but it still comes down to execution in the fourth quarter,” said Coffman. “We’ve made huge strides from where we were, but now we’re going to have to learn how to finish these games. In the fourth quarter, they (Titans) really didn’t line up any different, and I actually liked our play calls, but we just didn’t execute. We led in the fourth quarter the last time too, but their kids responded and made the plays when they had to and we didn’t.”
The Bobcats rushed for two yards shy of an even 300 on 43 attempts —with Brannigan carrying 16 times for 67 yards, while McBee busted loose for 167 yards and four TDs on 15 totes.
Lodwick went for 76 yards on seven tries, his stats ballooned by his 56-yard jaunt to get Green on the scoreboard.
Lodwick is one of 10 Bobcat seniors, which have laid the Franklin Furnace foundation for future Green success.
Coffman completed his third season on Friday night, as Green wrapped up just its third winning football season since 1991.
“It’s very difficult going from being non-competitive to competing and winning. It’s a testament to our seniors that we’ve went from being non-competitive to competing and winning,” said the coach. “For us, we have to get stronger, get faster and build more depth, and continue to move in the direction that we did this year to being a better football program. I think our kids have a different demeanor and attitude and an understanding of what it’s going to take.”
For the Titans, it’s going to take a near-perfect performance to knock off state powerhouse Newark Catholic —the top-seeded squad in all of Region 27, and an overwhelming favorite for the Division VII state championship.
The Green Wave was last year’s state runner-up to Marion Local, which moved up to Division VI this year.
Kickoff is set for Friday night at 7 p.m. —at Newark’s White Field.
“This is an opportunity for us to find out what it’s all about. We’re excited to still be playing and our seniors have at least another four quarters,” said Ashley. “That’s all the further we are looking at right now.”
* * *
Notre Dame 21 10 0 14 — 45
Green 6 16 6 8 —36
ND— Dylan Seison, 9-yard run (kick failed), 9:44, 1st (6-0 ND)
ND— Gavin Hart, 2-yard run (Gavin Hart run), 6:16, 1st (14-0 ND)
G — Landan Lodwick, 56-yard run (kick failed), 5:17, 1st (14-6 ND)
ND— Dylan Seison, 12-yard run (Coleman Shaffer kick), 1:23, 1st (21-6 ND)
G — Abe McBee, 63-yard run (Nathaniel Brannigan run), 10:14, 2nd (21-14 ND)
G — Abe McBee, 54-yard run (Nathaniel Brannigan run), 9:03, 2nd (22-21 G)
ND — Coleman Shaffer, 29-yard field goal, 3:44, 2nd (24-22 ND)
ND — Dylan Seison, 28-yard pass from Wyatt Webb (Coleman Shaffer kick), :15, 2nd (31-22 ND)
G — Abe McBee, 8-yard run (kick blocked), 6:35, 3rd (31-28 ND)
G — Abe McBee, 3-yard run (Abe McBee run), 11:56, 4th (36-31 G)
ND— Dylan Seison, 80-yard kickoff return (Wyatt Webb run), 11:41, 4th (39-36 ND)
ND— Gavin Hart, 10-yard run (kick failed), 7:47, 4th (45-36 ND)
First downs 16 15
Scrimmage plays 47 46
Rushes-yards 35-182 43-298
Passing yards 136 29
Total yards 318 327
Cmp-Att-Int. 7-12-0 1-3-2
Fumbles-lost 2-0 5-2
Penalties-yards 9-61 6-40
Punts-Ave. 3-15.3 1-34
RUSHING — Notre Dame: Gavin Hart 22-140 2TD, Dylan Seison 6-38 2TD, Wyatt Webb 6-3, Myles Phillips 1-1 ; Green: Nathaniel Brannigan 16-67, Abe McBee 15-167 4TD, Landan Lodwick 7-76 TD, Blake Smith 3-19, Jon Knapp 1-(-10), Team 1-(-21)
PASSING —Notre Dame: Wyatt Webb 7-12-0-136 TD; Green: Jon Knapp 1-3-2-29
RECEIVING —Notre Dame: Luke Cassidy 3-60, Dylan Seison 2-36 TD, Carter Campbell 1-26, Landon Barbarits 1-14; Green: Gabe McBee 1-29