Note: This recap appears in the Sunday, Nov. 10 newspaper on Page B1.
GLOUSTER — The Trimble Tomcats start every football game the same way, slowly walking from the locker room to the field as music blares over the loudspeakers, keeping their emotions in check as the crowd roars.
“Walking out the way we walk out, there’s nothing like it,” Trimble coach Phil Faires said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
While the Tomcats approached midfield on Friday, something different happened. Their opponents — the Southern Indians — walked onto the field toward Trimble, motioning for them to come on out.
The visiting Indians weren’t backing down against Trimble, but the Tomcats have been through these battles before.
Senior quarterback Cameron Kittle accounted for 178 yards of total offense and four touchdowns, as the No. 4 Tomcats advanced in the postseason, beating the No. 5 Indians 26-14 in front of a packed house at Glouster Memorial Stadium.
The Indians were ready for the challenge, but the Tomcats are the ones who advanced to the Division VI, Region 21 semifinals.
“This is the best atmosphere in a game we’ve ever had probably, in our entire careers,” Kittle said. “And to be this big, our last home game as a senior, it’s just incredible to come out on top of this one.”
Trimble’s defense faced its toughest challenge all season, as Southern ended any thoughts of a shutout with a first-quarter touchdown.
The Tomcats had only allowed six points on the year, and none since Sept. 27.
The Indians (10-1) actually outgained Trimble 364-276, including gaining 244 rushing yards. However, Trimble’s defense forced Southern into five fumbles, recovering two of them while Kittle also earned an interception on defense.
“We strive on our defense and this is the most we’ve given up in a game this year,” Kittle said. “I feel like we played pretty good on ‘D’.”
It was ultimately Kittle’s legs that ended any hopes of a Southern upset, allowing Trimble to improve to 11-0.
Kittle scored touchdown runs of 40 and 35 yards in the fourth quarter, each one a back-breaker for the Indians.
Kittle’s first fourth-quarter touchdown run came with 7:21 remaining. On a second-and-seven, Kittle ran a counter play out of the wishbone set.
Kittle was able to get loose down the Trimble sideline, out-running the Southern defense for a 20-6 lead.
“They’ve been focusing on the running backs because we run heavy with them every game,” Kittle said. “When we can sneak me out on the back side, get around the edge and I can be mostly in on the secondary.”
The play seemed like it would ice the game for Trimble, but Southern responded with an eight-play, 69-yard drive. Cam Grodhaus’ 10-yard touchdown pass to Josh Pratt kept the game alive for Southern, as Pratt was able to wrestle the ball away from Trimble’s Austin Wisor on a fourth-down play.
Southern cut the Trimble lead to 20-14 on Dylan Milhoan’s 2-point conversion run.
Trimble’s Bryce Downs recovered an onside kick with 3:50 remaining, and the Tomcats went back to the wishbone.
Downs ran for 19 yards on first down, then two Conner Wright runs set Trimble up with a third-and-seven from the Indians’ 35-yard line.
Southern still had one timeout left, but it wouldn’t be able to stop Kittle.
Kittle not only got the first down, but he once again found the end zone. Kittle ran the counter to the left side again out of the wishbone, spinning away from a defender inside the 20 for the score.
The Tomcats and their crowd erupted, leading 26-14 with just 2:16 left.
“We were wanting to hit them outside,” Faires said. “That’s why we put Bryce in there a little bit with his speed. Then we went more up the gut on them and gave Cam the counter, and he started following Sawyer (Koons).”
Kittle’s interception ended Southern’s final drive, and the Tomcats had won a playoff game for the eighth season in a row.
“This is what we play the whole year for is to come in this time and shine and play our game,” Kittle said. “Stay in the weight room, get stronger and go as far as we can make it.”
Trimble was able to limit the big-play ability of Grodhaus, Southern’s senior standout.
Grodhaus had 78 yards on eight carries, catching one pass for 24 yards while also throwing the fourth-quarter touchdown pass.
The Tomcats had Downs covering Grodhaus, with Kittle helping over top.
“They got a little frustrated and forced a few, then went to someone else and started throwing to someone else so we were happy,” Faires said. “No. 6 (Grodhaus) is a ball player, and he’s a good runner.”
Southern also had 119 yards rushing from Milhoan, and 110 yards passing from Jayce Sloan.
Despite giving up a season high in total yards, Trimble’s defense still made plenty of plays. Sawyer Koons recovered a fumble on a fourth-and-one play to end the Indians’ opening drive.
Trimble turned the turnover into points. Kittle found Tabor Lackey for a 33-yard pass on the first play — seemingly surprising the Indians with the play selection as Lackey got a clean release and was wide open.
Kittle’s first touchdown came three plays later, a sneak from the 1-yard line for a 7-0 lead.
Southern responded and showed that the Tomcats would be in for a fight with its next drive. Milhoan rushed for 39 on Southern’s seven-play, 73-yard march that ended with Sloan’s three-yard touchdown run.
Southern went for 2, and Trimble’s defense stuffed Grodhaus to preserve the 7-6 lead.
Trimble had a pair of big swings go in its favor during the remainder of the half. The Indians’ next drive would get to Trimble’s 5-yard line, but the ‘Cats got a stop when Sloan missed a receiver on fourth down.
Trimble followed up that defensive stop with a 95-yard touchdown drive that featured big passes from Kittle.
The first came on third-and-17, when Kittle found Blake Guffey open down the Indians’ sideline for a 35-yard gain to the 34-yard line.
Southern’s Hunter Morris would come away with a 13-yard sack on Kittle later in the drive, putting Trimble in a tough fourth-and-23 from the Southern 36-yard line.
No worries though, as Kittle once again found Guffey.
The sophomore ran up the seam and got open when a Southern defender appeared to slip. Guffey hauled in the pass and made a defender miss, scoring the 36-yard touchdown with 54.4 seconds left in the half.
The 95-yard drive lasted 12 plays and took 7 minutes and 34 seconds off the clock.
Instead of Southern having a chance to possibly run a two-minute drill to take the lead, Trimble enjoyed a 13-6 halftime edge.
“I think the kid slipped, but Guffey’s a man out there,” Faires said. “We just haven’t had to use him this year. You’ll see him next year, but yeah that was a huge play. Fourth down, we’re really just throwing it up for grabs and he made the play.”
Kittle completed 4 of 8 passes of 105 yards and the touchdown, also rushing for 73 yards on 10 carries with three touchdowns.
Wright had 70 yards on 15 carries, while Downs added 29 yards on three carries. Guffey had 71 yards on two receptions.
Trimble advances to the Region 21 semifinals, where it will take on No. 1 Springfield.
The Tigers are also 11-0 after a 34-7 win over No. 8 Western Reserve.
The game will be played Friday at 7 p.m., with the OHSAA announcing a neutral-site location on Sunday.
Friday’s playoff win was the 18th in school history for the Tomcats, but the first one that didn’t occur in the OHSAA’s smallest division.
After playing in the Division VII state championship game last season, Trimble was bumped up to D-VI this season.
One week down, four to go though, as Trimble was able to hand a veteran Southern team its first loss of the season.
Despite the three-hour trip from Salineville, the Indians filled the visiting bleachers in Glouster Memorial Stadium. It made for a rocking atmosphere in week 11.
“I told the kids, there are some good football players in Trimble history that’s never got to play in this kind of game, so enjoy it,” Faires said. “It always feels better if you win. It was a great crowd. Looked like there were people everywhere and our crowd was loud. That helps.”
Trimble 26, Southern 14
Southern 6 0 0 8 — 14
Trimble 7 6 0 13 — 26
T — Cameron Kittle, 1-yard run (Blake Guffey kick), 9:16, 1st
S — Jayce Sloan, 3-yard run (run failed), 7:09, 1st
T — Blake Guffey, 36-yard pass from Cameron Kittle (kick failed), 54.4, 2nd
T — Cameron Kittle, 40-yard run (Blake Guffey kick), 7:21, 4th
S — Josh Pratt, 10-yard pass from Cam Grodhaus (Dylan Milhoan run), 3:52, 4th
T — Cameron Kittle, 35-yard run (run failed), 2:16, 4th
First downs 18 13
Plays from scrimmage 67 38
(plys-yds) 52-244 30-171
Passing yards 120 105
Total net yards 364 276
Passes (cmp-att-int) 8-15-1 4-8-0
Fumbles (no-lost) 5-2 0-0
Penalties (no-yds) 14-145 3-25
Punts (no-avg) 1-32 3-32.3
Southern — Dylan Milhoan 16-119, Cam Grodhaus 8-78, Mark Soukup 8-38, Jayce Sloan 18-23 TD, Hunter Morris 1-4, TEAM 1-(-18); Trimble — Cameron Kittle 10-73 3 TDs, Conner Wright 15-70, Bryce Downs 3-29, Todd Fouts 1-1, TEAM 1-(-2)
Southern — Jayce Sloan 7-14-1-110, Cam Grodhaus 1-1-0-10 TD; Trimble — Cameron Kittle 4-8-0-105 TD
Southern — Bradley Sloan 1-47, Latrell Crute 2-31, Cam Grodhaus 1-24, Josh Pratt 1-10 TD, Mark Soukup 3-9; Trimble — Blake Guffey 2-71 TD, Tabor Lackey 1-33, Bryce Downs 1-1