PIQUA — Lehman Catholic football coach Richard Roll had said he didn’t like playing anybody he had just beaten two weeks earlier.
But, any concerns the Lehman football coach had against Lima Perry in the opening round of the Division VII, Region 28 playoffs were alleviated by one big play after another Friday night at Alexander Stadium/Purk Field.
Lehman beat Perry 46-6 in Friday’s playoff game, which came two weeks after the Cavaliers beat Perry 49-13 in at Northwest Central Conference game.
Lehman (10-1) will now play Delphos St. John’s (7-4) at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at a site to be announced Sunday.
“We just had so many big plays tonight,” Roll said. “And this may have been the best game our defense has played all season.”
And it didn’t take long.
After Braiden Sherman converted on a fake punt on fourth down on Lehman’s first possession, a penalty wiped it out and the Cavaliers did punt.
“They stopped us the first time,” Roll said. “We made that fake punt, but messed that up (with the penalty).
But, on Lima Perry’s second play, things went wrong for the Commodores from the start.
Quarterback Louis Hoersten was hit as he threw a pass, which went backwards. Sherman then flattened the prospective receiver as he tried to pick the ball up.
“I just knew I could hit the guy,” Sherman said with a smile. “It was great for the defense to come out and make a big play like that early.”
The ball came to rest at the nine-yard line, where Lehman defensive lineman Michael Bunker scooped it up and had a convoy of Lehman defenders with him as he went into the end zone. Michael Denning’s kick made it 7-0 with 8:20 remaining in the first quarter.
“The ball was just laying there,” Bunker said. “Braiden Sherman made a big hit and it was easy (picking up the ball and running it into the end zone).”
Three plays after the kickoff, Lehman’s Kameron Lee intercepted a pass at the Lehman 25-yard line and returned the ball to the Perry 45.
“Again, we just made so many big plays,” Roll said. “That was a huge play by Kam.”
Owen Smith had a 21-yard run and after a Lehman unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, quarterback Elliott Gilardi threw 10 yards to Bunker across the middle for the score. Denning’s kick made it 14-0 with 4:43 to go in the first quarter.
“No, I never would have expected that in a playoff game,” Denning said about scoring the game’s first two touchdowns. “It was amazing. We saw something in their defense.”
Perry then snapped the ball over the punters head on fourth down from the 15 to make it 16-0 Lehman with 2:14 to go in first quarter.
After the safety and free kick, Lehman had a first-and-goal on the five.
But, Brayden Owens had a sack for a 12-yard loss on second down and Lehman settled for a 30-yard field goal by Denning to take a 19-0 lead with 9:18 to go in the half.
Colin Haller then recovered a fumble at the Perry 44, two plays after Bunker had a sack for an 11-yard loss.
Sherman caught three passes from Gilardi, including an 8-yarder on third-and-six, and RJ Bertini then made a diving, acrobatic catch in the end zone on a 22-yard pass for the score. The kick failed, leaving the score at 25-0 with 6:28 remaining in the first half.
“That was a great catch by RJ (Bertini),” Roll said.
It even surprised Bertini.
“I couldn’t believe I caught the ball,” he said. “I just went up and tried to make a play. It was a great feeling (making that catch).”
James Muller then recovered an onside kick for the Cavaliers at Perry’s 43, but Perry held and forced a punt.
Following a Perry punt, Lehman faced a third-and-21 from its own 34 with Gilardi out of the game.
“That was third an forever,” Roll said.
Smith took the handoff on a perfectly executed draw play and went 66 yards for a touchdown. Denning’s kick made it 32-0 with 1:40 remaining in the half.
“That was a big play,” Smith said. “That gave us momentum going to the locker room. It was just great execution. Our offensive line is amazing.”
Hoersten completed a 30-yard pass to Malique Cooper in the final minute to the Lehman 25-yard line, but Lee took the ball away from him and Lehman took a knee to end the half.
After a failed fourth-down attempt by Lima Perry to start the second half, Smith went 44-yards on the first play, dragging a couple tacklers into the end zone. Denning’s kick made it 39-0 with 7:34 remaining in third quarter.
“I run behind the best offensive line,” Smith said. “They may be the best offensive line in the state.”
With 1:41 to go in the quarter, Lee threw a 24-yard TD pass to Sherman and Denning’s kick made it 46-0.
Perry got on the board with 5:24 to go in the game on a nine-yard pass from Hoersten to Luke Floyd. The conversion failed, making the final 46-6.
Smith finished with 181 yards on 15 carries in the game, while Gilardi completed eight of 10 passes for 76 yards.
Sherman caught four passes for 48 yards to lead the receivers.
Add on a recovered onside kick in the first half by James Muller and a second-half interception by Brendan O’Leary and it was too many big plays for the final outcome to be any different than the first time.
And end any worries Roll may have had.
Rob Kiser is the sports editor of the Piqua Daily Call. Kiser can be reached at (937) 451-3334.