WAPAKONETA — Tanner Schroeder said he’s gotten a lot of good birthday gifts through his life, but he made have given himself the best gift of his life in a Division VII state semifinal on Saturday at Wapakoneta’s Harmon Field — at a cost to Fort Loramie.
Schroeder ran for two touchdowns, threw for touchdowns and had three interceptions to help McComb beat Fort Loramie 28-14. McComb (13-1) advances to face Glouster Trimble in the Div. VII state championship game at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
The defeat ended a historic season for Fort Loramie. The Redskins (12-2) won their first Cross County Conference championship this season, advanced to a regional final for the first time since 2009 and won their first regional title in school history.
“I’m honored to have coached this team,” Fort Loramie coach Spencer Wells said. “What they did for our program this year — they made history. We asked them to leave a legacy, and they did. Our 12 seniors no doubt left a legacy. We’ve got an offseason to work and get better and get past this point. We had never been to this point, and that’s a credit to our seniors.”
It was Wells’ first season as head coach. After the Redskins lost by 20 points to defending Div. VII state champion Minster at the start of the season, they rattled off 12 straight wins, including nine in a row by at least 27 points.
“It’s just been an honor,” Wells said. “My assistant coaches did such an outstanding job, and the players bought in from literally day one, including tonight. They did literally everything I could have asked, and I know moving forward our guys will continue to do that. It’s an outstanding community and program, and I’m blessed to be a part of it.”
When it looked like Fort Loramie could rally, Schroeder took over and carried McComb to a victory.
After the Redskins pulled within 21-14 early in the fourth quarter, Schroeder had a big run to move the ball to Fort Loramie’s 22 and then ran it in up the middle on the next play to boost the lead to 28-14 with 4:59 left.
Schroeder then intercepted passes to end Fort Loramie’s next two drives, and the Panthers ran out the clock.
“I don’t think we had gotten a first down in a long time, and we got the ball moving and got some momentum, and we just finished it off,” Schroeder said of his big runs on the last TD drive.
Schroeder unofficially ran for 240 yards and threw for 122 yards. He credited his offensive line for holding back Fort Loramie defenders.
“They were incredible,” Schroeder said. “I had all the time in the world. Those guys do a great job every single night, every single day. I think we surprised them with our passing game tonight, since we didn’t complete any passes last week.”
And though McComb stayed on the ground in a 33-18 win over Edgerton last week, Wells said he knew Schroeder was a threat when passing. He entered Saturday’s game with 863 passing yards and nine passing TDs to his credit.
Both of Schroeder’s touchdown passes on Saturday came in the first half to senior Robert O’dell.
“We haven’t needed to throw it, and we did a good job throwing it to O’dell,” McComb coach Kris Alge said. “He had a heck of a route on that first one. …I had a dream that I told O’dell about where he was going to score two touchdowns. Dreams do come true.”
After scoring a touchdown on its opening drive, Fort Loramie struggled offensively through the rest of the game. They weren’t helped by having poor field position through most of the game, including in the second half.
McComb’s defensive line sacked sophomore quarterback Collin Moore a couple of times, which is the first time he’s been sacked this season.
“Those guys are good,” Alge said of Fort Loramie. “That’s a great football team we just beat. …Our defense is pretty darn good. I think we get underestimated a lot. We’re not the biggest guys, but we’ve got speed. Our (defensive) ends are pretty good, and our linebackers are. We got to their quarterback and pressure him a little bit.”
And then there was Schroeder, who turned 18 on Saturday. He intercepted a pass in the second quarter and then picked off two more late in the fourth to help seal the victory.
“He’s just such a phenomenal athlete and a physical runner,” Wells said of Schroeder. “He’s probably the most physical runner we’ve seen all year. We put our defense in too many tough situations, and at the end, we were asking too much of our defense. Credit to (McComb). They’re an outstanding team and we’ll be rooting for them next week.”
McComb led 21-7 at halftime. Fort Loramie was forced to punt on the first drive in the second half but pinned McComb back on the 3-yard line. Nick Brandewie intercepted a pass at the 6, but the Redskins fumbled it away three plays later.
“They made a great play,” Wells said of McComb recovering the fumble shortly after Brandewie’s interception. “That’s football in Week 14. You need guys to step up in battle. Our guys battled their butts off, but they just made a few more plays than us.”
The teams traded punts until early in the fourth quarter.
The Redskins moved the ball into McComb territory after a pass interference penalty. Mark Seger caught a pass from Collin Moore along the home sidelines, dodged two defenders and scored on a 45-yard play with 9:33 left to cut the deficit to 21-14.
Fort Loramie’s comeback effort fell apart after that.
“McComb’s an outstanding football team, and that’s what happened after that,” Well said. “They made plays, and our guys fought their tails off. I’m so proud of our guys’ effort. They left it all on the field.”
McComb fumbled on the first drive of the game, and Blake Holthaus recovered at Fort Loramie’s 31 with 7:28 left in the first quarter. Carter Mescher had a 34-yard run a few plays later that moved the ball to McComb’s 29, and Devin Wehrman scored on a 4-yard run a few plays later to give the Redskins a 7-0 lead with 3:57 in the first quarter.
The Panthers responded quickly. After a decent kickoff return, Schroeder threw a 60-yard touchdown pass over the middle of the field to O’dell, which tied it 7-7 with 3:42 left.
Fort Loramie punted on its next drive, and Schroeder busted a run up the middle 80 yards for a touchdown to put McComb up 14-7 with 1:37 left.
The Redskins punted on their next drive, and McComb quickly scored. Schroeder threw a 52-yard pass to O’dell along the home sidelines, and O’dell shook off a Fort Loramie defender and scored to put the Panthers ahead 21-7 with 8:55 left in the second quarter.
“They had a nice concept (on that first TD pass), and (Schroeder) put it right on the money,” Wells said. “The other touchdown pass, the kid made a one-handed pass right on the sideline. That’s a credit to those guys. That’s an outstanding football play that they made.”
Mark Seger intercepted a pass from Schroeder at Fort Loramie’s 19 with 4:58 left, but the Redskins went three-and-out.
The Redskins will lose 12 seniors to graduation, including Mescher and linemen Grant Imwalle, C.J. Billing and Collin Detrick, who were first team all-Southwest district in D-VII.
“I can’t get over how hard our guys fought,” Wells said. “They left it all on the field. I wish I could have coached them better and could have made a few more plays, but our guys did everything I could have asked and more, so credit to our guys.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.