With his team’s season on the line in the final minute of the Division II, Region 7 final Nov. 16 at Gahanna, New Albany High School football coach Mark Mueller had just one thought as Marion-Franklin quarterback Corry Benson threw from near midfield.
“Darron, go catch it,” Mueller said of his quarterback and safety, Darron Lee. “Someone, go catch it. We had three guys there. That ball didn’t get past us. But one guy jumped over everyone else.”
Lee’s interception of Benson at the New Albany 17-yard line ended the Red Devils’ last-ditch comeback attempt, and the fourth-seeded Eagles escaped with a 32-30 victory for their second regional championship and 11th consecutive victory.
“We knew they needed a big play,” said Lee, an Ohio State recruit who earlier returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown and ran for a 36-yard touchdown in the second half. “We had coverage by our corners and all our outside defenders. Luckily I was able to make a big play.”
The Eagles (11-2) will play defending state champion Trotwood-Madison (11-2) in a state semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 23 at a site to be announced. Trotwood-Madison won the Region 8 championship Nov. 16, defeating Cincinnati Turpin 42-14.
New Albany won the Division III, Region 12 championship in 2006, going 9-5 and losing to Kettering Alter 31-7 in a state semifinal.
Third-seeded Marion-Franklin (11-2) sprinted to a 16-6 lead in the first 4 minutes, 16 seconds. Benson scored on a 2-yard run, New Albany’s Alan Watson answered with a 1-yard scoring run and the Red Devils’ Darien Williams returned the ensuing kickoff 73 yards for a touchdown.
But the Eagles didn’t trail again. Lee threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Carson Tunney with two minutes left in the quarter, had his punt return after Marion-Franklin’s next possession and threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Joe Siegenthaler with nine minutes left in the first half for a 26-16 lead.
“We knew what we were getting ourselves into. It was a roller coaster,” Lee said. “It was going to be up and down. We just had to stay together and hang as a team and we’d come out on top in the end.”
Lee ran for his score on the third play of the second half, but Marion-Franklin effectively controlled the half after that. They ran 30 of the game’s next 36 plays, getting within 32-30 on Joe Alverson’s 12-yard touchdown run and a 1-yard scoring run by Alijahwon Tarvin.
Despite both sides committing 10 penalties, New Albany held from there. The Red Devils started at their own 11-yard line with 3:49 left but couldn’t cap their comeback.
“They got us early a couple times then we went out and shut the running game down,” Marion-Franklin coach Brian Haffele said. “Compared to what they’ve been doing to teams in the past, we did well. But our special teams killed us. Our field position was terrible and we gave them great position. It’s so disappointing because we stressed it all week.”
M-F—Benson 2 run (Tarvin run)
NA—Watson 1 run (kick failed)
M-F—Williams 73 kickoff return (Alverson pass from Benson)
NA—Tunney 39 pass from Lee (Quillin kick)
NA—Lee 82 punt return (kick failed)
NA—Siegenthaler 48 pass from Lee (Quillin kick)
NA—Lee 36 run (kick failed)
M-F—Alverson 12 run (Dukes pass from Benson)
M-F—Tarvin 1 run (pass failed)