ASHLAND - The Big Walnut High School football team's quest for a second consecutive Division III state championship is over.
The Golden Eagles lost to Aurora 20-14 in a state semifinal Saturday at Ashland Community Stadium to finish 11-3. The loss ended a 10-game winning streak.
Aurora improved to 12-2 and extended its winning streak to 11 games. The Greenmen will face Eastmoor in the state final at 11 a.m. Nov. 29 at Fawcett Stadium in Canton.
"We told the guys, 'Hey, hold your heads up. We played our butts off tonight,'" coach Scott Wetzel said. "We got beat by a very good football team. Aurora played a great football game tonight.
"Our guys went down fighting. There were a couple times when we could've hung our heads, but we didn't. We kept playing hard. We have nothing to be ashamed of."
Aurora took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter with a 23-yard field goal by Andy Heacox. Defensive lineman Kevin Carroll set up the score, recovering a fumble by fullback Buddy Carrel at the Big Walnut 30-yard line.
The Greenmen extended their lead to 10-0 midway through the second quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Brendan Gallagher. The score was set up by a 37-yard pass from Gallagher to wide receiver Tim Jenkins on fourth-and-1 from the Big Walnut 40.
Big Walnut cut it to 10-7 midway through the third quarter with a 7-yard touchdown run by receiver Eugene Cannaday, who lined up at quarterback and, after faking a handoff, ran untouched into the end zone.
The drive was kept alive by a 24-yard pass from Johnny Cannell to receiver Nick Heiden on third-and-6 from the Aurora 38.
Aurora made it 13-7 with a 25-yard field goal by Heacox early in the fourth quarter and extended its lead to 20-7 with a 3-yard touchdown run by running back Steve Yung with 5 minutes, 11 seconds remaining.
Big Walnut scored on a 29-yard pass from Cannell to Cannaday with 3:17 left and forced Aurora to punt on the ensuing possession, giving the Golden Eagles the ball at their own 12 with 1:13 to play. But on the second play of the drive, defensive back Mike Ganoe intercepted Cannell and the Greenmen ran out the clock to advance to the state final for the first time.
"They're the defending state champs and what can you say?" Aurora coach Bob Mihalik said. "Hats off to Scott and his team. That was a heck of a football game and they battled down to the end like we knew they would."
Big Walnut turned the ball over three times and Aurora had only one turnover.
"We said going in that they were so well-coached that whoever won the turnover battle would win, and we won the turnover battle," Mihalik said. "I think that was the key."
BIG WALNUT 0 0 7 7 -- 14
AURORA 3 7 0 10 -- 20
A-Heacox 23 FG
A-Gallagher 1 run (Heacox kick)
BW-Cannaday 7 run (Fleak kick)
A-Heacox 25 FG
A-Yung 3 run (Heacox kick)
BW-Cannaday 29 pass from Cannell (Fleak kick)