By Bryant Billing
PIQUA — Lehman Catholic coach Dick Roll knew his players were disappointed with a Week 1 loss at Fort Recovery, but he didn’t know just how much the loss still burned until Saturday. After bringing up the loss at halftime of a nonconference game against Graham at Alexander Stadium, he saw the anger return to his players’ faces.
That anger was apparent fast in the second half against the Falcons. Lehman trailed by 11 points at halftime but scored four touchdowns in the third quarter and ran away late in the fourth to a 51-34 win.
Owen Smith ran for three touchdowns in the second half, including a pair after Graham narrowed the gap to 37-34 early in the fourth quarter. He said Roll’s halftime talk was the spark that ignited the offense’s second-half performance.
“We just weren’t focused and were making too many mistakes,” Smith said of the team’s early problems. “He just told us (at halftime) that we needed to get our heads together. We weren’t being physically or mentally sound, and we just had to go out there and take over, be the Lehman Catholic team that we know we are. We came out knowing we weren’t losing this game.”
Both teams moved the ball well on offense throughout the game, but a few penalties and a pair of interceptions doomed several early drives for the Cavaliers (2-1).
After a 47-yard field goal by Michael Denning cut Graham’s lead to 14-10 with 2:38 left in the second quarter, the Falcons quickly drove down the field and scored on a short touchdown run by Austin Brayton to increase the lead to 21-10.
“We gave them a wakeup call at halftime and tried to teach them how important it was to focus,” Roll said. “I just don’t think they were concentrating. We came in for (a team) breakfast (Saturday) morning, and it was kind of an eerie feeling. We sort of came out here the same. We just need to concentrate and stay focused — that’s our biggest problem.
“… I don’t like to dwell on the Fort Recovery game, but you’ve got to keep coming at them. We didn’t do that then and we didn’t in the first half, but the kids responded and we did in the second half tonight.”
Graham quarterback Gage Braun threw a 76-yard touchdown pass to Brayton with 11:03 left in the fourth quarter to cut Lehman’s lead to three points.
Lehman’s offense went right back to work. After Smith had a 46-yard touchdown called back due to a holding penalty, Gilardi scrambled on a third-and-12 and threw a pass to Bradly Haynes near the home sideline. Smith ran for a 20-yard touchdown on the next play to boost the lead to 44-34 with 3:53 left.
Graham (1-2) went three-and-out on its next drive and punted. Lehman took over on Graham’s 45-yard line and quickly scored. After Smith rushed for 26 yards and seven yards on a pair of carries, he finished off the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run with 1:57 left.
“Our line stayed disciplined, got on their blocks and did what they’re supposed to do,” Smith said. “The rest worked out. Big holes for me lead to touchdowns.”
It’s the second consecutive game that Lehman has rallied in the second half. The Cavaliers scored the last 17 points in a 31-14 win over Miami East on Sept. 1.
Smith said both rallies have been fueled by the season-opening loss to Fort Recovery, in which Lehman couldn’t hold onto a 21-0 lead and lost 27-21 in overtime.
“I’d love to go back into that game and fix a few things there, but we’re looking through the windshield, not the rearview mirror,” Smith said. “We were saying at halftime that this isn’t the Fort Recovery game, we’re not coming out here and giving up a loss.”
Brandon Barhorst got Lehman’s scoring started in the second half with a 5-yard touchdown run and 6-yard touchdown run. Smith then ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 2:55 left in the third to put the Cavaliers up 31-21.
After Smith’s run, Brayton returned the kickoff 93 yards to the 2-yard line and then scored on the next play to cut Lehman’s lead to 31-27. Gilardi scored a 6-yard run with 20 seconds left in the third, and Graham narrowed the gap to three points again on Brayton’s long touchdown reception.
Gilardi completed 7-of-14 pass attempts for 91 yards and ran for 147 yards. He scored the first touchdown of the game on an 11-yard run in the first quarter.
Smith ran for 175 yards on 27 carries, and Barhorst had 73 rushing yards and 10 attempts. Kameron Lee led the Cavaliers with 54 receiving yards on four catches.
Roll said he was pleased with the balance on offense and thinks it’s one of the team’s biggest strengths.
“We think we have four or five really special players,” Roll said. “Owen’s a horse and is one of them.”
Brayton scored on an 80-yard pass from Braun with 41 seconds left in the first quarter which gave Graham a 14-7 lead. Braun scored Graham’s first touchdown on a 2-yard run.
Lehman had 486 yards of offense in the game and Graham had 390. Braun was 12-of-21 passing for 247 yards and had 46 rushing yards. Brayton finished with 343 all-purpose yards.
Lehman opens Northwest Central Conference play on Friday at Ridgemont (0-3).