Running back Lucas Garcia rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries to lead the Big Walnut High School football team to a 14-7 win over visiting Beechcroft in the first round of the Division II, Region 7 playoffs.
Seeded fourth, Big Walnut improved to 9-2 and advanced to play top-seeded Marion-Franklin in a regional semifinal Nov. 11 at a site to be determined. Last season as the fifth seed, the Golden Eagles upset top-seeded Marion-Franklin 24-12 in a Region 7 semifinal when the Red Devils were ranked first in the final state poll.
Beechcroft, the fifth seed, finished 9-2. The loss ended the Cougars’ eight-game winning streak.
“Our kids battled for four quarters, and we knew it was going to be (a hard-fought game),” Big Walnut coach Joe Weaver said. “That’s how it is in the playoffs.”
Big Walnut relied heavily on its running game against Beechcroft, as quarterback Tyler Beam completed only two of 10 passes for 15 yards and was intercepted twice. Garcia, who 5-foot-8, 162 pounds, led the Golden Eagles’ ground attack and Beam rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
“Lucas stepped up big for us tonight, Weaver said. “He’s a heck of a ballplayer. He’s not real big in size, but he’s huge in heart. When he runs hard like that, it builds up our offensive line and (the linemen) go out there and work even harder for him.”
“That’s Big Walnut football right there. We’re going to play smash-mouth the whole game,” Garcia said. “Beechcroft’s obviously a good team. They’re very athletic. But as soon as we adjusted, we felt like we were the better team tonight.”
Big Walnut took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 39-yard run by Beam and extended its lead to 14-0 in the third quarter with a 4-yard touchdown run by Garcia.
Beechcroft cut its deficit to 14-7 with a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Maurice Hale to wide receiver Kevin Chapple with 2 minutes, 48 seconds left, and the Cougars got the ball back with 1:58 left when Chapple, who also plays on defense, recovered a fumble by Beam at the Golden Eagles’ 45-yard line.
However, Big Walnut cornerback Joey Johnson intercepted Hale on the next play and the Golden Eagles ran out the clock.
Hale completed 20 of 38 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted three times.
“He’s a heck of a football player, and I thought our guys stepped up to the challenge,” Weaver said. “It’s not easy for the guys up front to be pass-rushing all night long, but they kept bringing heat and applying pressure. They did a heck of a job.”
Big Walnut’s defense forced five turnovers and sacked Hale six times, all in the first half.
“They made (fewer) mistakes,” Beechcroft coach Bruce ward said. “We’ve talked all year about being where we wanted to be, and you can’t make mistakes and get where you want to go. They were a lot of turnovers in the first half, but our guys fought and played hard for four quarters and Big Walnut’s a good team. We just made more mistakes than they did tonight.”
BEECHCROFT 0 0 0 7 -- 7
BIG WALNUT 07 0 7 0 -- 14
BW--T. Beam 39 run (Gibson kick)
BW--Garcia 4 run (Gibson kick)
B--Chapple 16 pass from Hale (Scase kick)