Springfield in semifinals for first time

SPRINGFIELD — Late in the fourth quarter with its first trip to the Class 2A semifinals hanging in the balance, Springfield fullback Ghermaine Ashton did what his coaches told him to do: hang on to the football and keep his legs moving.

Ashton rushed for 154 yards on 23 carries with three touchdowns and No. 4-seeded Springfield got a key fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter to set up an insurance score and hold off No. 21-seeded Many 34-28 on Friday at Bulldog Stadium. The win by Springfield (11-1) tied a single-season school record and sends the Bulldogs into a semifinal game against top-seeded John Curtis on Friday. Many ended its season at 8-5.

“Offensively, we just did what we’ve done all year … get first downs and run the clock,” Springfield coach Ryan Serpas said. “That team (Many) is definitely a great team, and they left it all out on the field. They have no reason to hang their heads. They fought all the way through, even though they were down at halftime, and they showed a lot of spirit and came back.

“It seemed like we would make a play, and they would make a play … fortunately for us, we had the lead and were able to close it out.”

After an 8-yard touchdown run by Many’s Xavier Dias cut the lead to 34-28 with 1:51 remaining, Springfield’s Tanner Wild recovered the Tigers’ onside kick at midfield and the Bulldogs ran out the clock. A 10-yard dive up the middle by Ashton on the Bulldogs’ first play and a face mask penalty by Many on the next forced the Tigers to burn their timeouts before Shaquille Smith sealed the win with a 17-yard run to the MHS 7.

Springfield struck first on its opening possession as Ashton rambled 32 yards on the first play to the MHS 33 before the Bulldogs scored four plays later. After Zack Clark was stopped for a 2-yard loss on third-and-7 at the MHS 30, the Bulldogs decided to go for it, and Smith found Clark on a 32-yard scoring pass with Ashton adding the two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.

Many cut the lead to 8-6 in the second quarter after Hunter Dubois recovered a Smith fumble at the SHS 42. A 20-yard run by Dias, who carried 11 times for 73 yards, moved the ball to the SHS 8 before Tyler Adamson scored four plays later on a 1-yard plunge with 11:02 left in the second quarter.

Ashton scored his first TD with 4:11 left in the second quarter after capping a seven-play, 53-yard drive that was aided by four Tigers penalties. Ashton scored on a 5-yard run to give the Bulldogs a 16-6 lead.

The Bulldogs then forced Many to punt. Dias attempted a pass on the play and it was picked off by Kimanae Claiborne at the SHS 24 and returned to the MHS 9, where Ashton capped the drive three plays later with a 1-yard TD with 14 seconds remaining in the half.

“That was the momentum- changer for us and really set us up with good field position to get that score,” Serpas said. “Kimanae has just been a big player for us, offensively and defensively, and I’m very proud of him and everything that he’s done since he’s been with us.”

Both teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter with Many scoring on a 59-yard pass from Dias to Carson McManus before Springfield answered with a 2-yard TD by Ashton with 5:32 remaining. A 51-yard run by Ashton on second-and-7 at the SHS 31 followed by a 16-yard scamper around right end by Clark moved the ball to the MHS 2 and Ashton scored his third TD of the night on the following play.

After Many cut the lead to 28-21 on a 6-yard TD run by Cortez Sweet with 1:30 left in the third quarter, Springfield drove to the MHS 10, but Smith’s pass to Claiborne on fourth-and-goal was incomplete.

With a chance to tie, Many turned to its leading rusher entering the game, Sweet, as the senior gained 5 yards on first down before a 2-yard run by Adamson put the ball on the MHS 17. The Springfield defense held Sweet to a 1-yard gain on third down before the Bulldogs stopped Sweet short of the first down at the SHS 19 with 5:20 left.

“We made too many mistakes in a (Class 2A) quarterfinal playoff game, and you can’t do that; you have to play your best football,” Many coach Jess Curtis said. “We played a great game last week against Winnfield and hoped that we could bring that here. It’s tough on the road, and Springfield came out, had a great crowd and was ready to go. We just didn’t play our best football.”

That was enough for Springfield as 6-yard runs by Clark and Ashton moved the ball to the MHS 7 before Claiborne scored two plays later on a 3-yard run around left end.

“This is where we wanted to be at, this is why we worked so hard in the offseason,” Serpas said. “To get to this point and have this opportunity … this was uncharted territory for us tonight and we were able to overcome it and come out with a win. We’re going to do our best to come out next week with a ‘W’ so we can walk on the (Mercedes-Benz Superdome) carpet the following week.”