CLAYTON -- The Watterson High School football team built a big first-half lead and had little trouble defeating Cincinnati McNicholas 20-7 in a Division III state semifinal Saturday in Clayton Northmont's Good Samaritan Stadium.

CLAYTON -- The Watterson High School football team built a big first-half lead and had little trouble defeating Cincinnati McNicholas 20-7 in a Division III state semifinal Saturday in Clayton Northmont's Good Samaritan Stadium.

At 3 p.m. next Saturday in Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, the Eagles will face Akron Buchtel in their first state final appearance since winning the 2002 Division III championship.

A pair of big passing plays, including one that came after a poor snap on a field-goal attempt, helped Watterson take a 20-0 lead by halftime.

While the Eagles improved to 12-1, the Rockets ended the longest playoff run in their history with an 11-3 record.

"(Our defense) did a great job tonight, as they've done all year," Eagles coach Dan Bjelac said. "They felt comfortable going against their option. I think it helps you a little bit when you've faced it three times earlier this year. The kids have been saying they want to get this far all year and we've just been very fortunate."

The Eagles tried a 34-yard field goal on their first offensive series, but a poor snap forced holder Brad McCurdy to attempt a pass. He connected with an open Mario Dean in the middle of the field and Dean ran in for a 17-yard touchdown to make it 7-0.

"When there's a bad snap like that we have a play in place," McCurdy said. "It helped us out a lot to get that."

Watterson took a 13-0 lead with 9:42 to go in the first half on a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Patrick Rhomberg. The possession began with a 65-yard run by Dean to the McNicholas 7 and was aided further by an offsides call on the Rockets on second-and-goal from the 5.

A turnover by the Rockets set up the Eagles' third score.

On second-and-16 from the 50 with 4:48 to go in the second quarter, McNicholas quarterback Matt Staubach fumbled and Michael Szaraz fell on it.

Rhomberg hit Connor Geraghty for a 32-yard reception on the first play of the ensuing drive and Ray Cook ran for a 19-yard touchdown on the next play to make it 20-0.

Staubach threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Dillon Stanfield with 6:33 remaining to make it 20-7, but the Eagles held McNicholas without a first down on its final possession and ran out the clock.

Matt Redfield rushed 11 times for 66 yards to lead a Watterson offense that produced 194 yards on the ground and 79 through the air.

"Coach Bjelac said before the game that relentlessness was what we needed tonight," Dean said. "Brad McCurdy was saying that there was no way we'd come home without a win. We came out fired up."


McNICHOLAS 0 0 0 7 -- 7

WATTERSON 7 13 0 0 -- 20

W--Dean 17 pass from McCurdy (Carter kick)

W--Rhomberg 1 run (kick failed)

W--Cook 19 run (Carter kick)

M--Stanfield 9 pass from Staubach (DiSalvio kick)