|Mr. Football, Brandon Saine, rushed for 236 yards and three touchdowns in his final game in a Piqua uniform.
By Jesse Swafford
The 2006 Division II State Championship belongs to the Piqua Indians. The Indians brought back the first football state championship to Miami County with a convincing 26-7 victory over the Pickerington Central Tigers at Paul Brown Stadium in Massillon. The win comes exactly six years to the day after Piqua made it's first appearance in the state title game in 2000.
Brandon Saine capped off his spectacular week by leading his team to the title. The Ohio State verbal was named Mr. Football, the award given to the top player in the state, on Wednesday.
"This is everything that I could ask and dream for," Saine said. "This (winning a state championship) is what you dream about playing football as a kid. I didn't feel any pressure to go out and perform after being named Mr. Football. I just wanted to go out and play my heart out since it was my last game for Piqua High School."
Pickerington Central looked as though they may have their way with the Indians if the first drive of the game was any indication. The Tigers used just 7 plays as they went 61 yards to the end zone, making it look easy. JD Cecil found the end zone from 7 yards out to put the first score of the game on the board. Brian Peters added the extra point to make it 7-0.
After two Piqua punts and one by Pickerington Central, Saine dazzled the crowd and the defense of the Tigers. He took a handoff and bounced outside on his way to the zone from 80 yards out. Wes Reed's extra point tied things up at 7 after one quarter of play.
Pickerington Central put together a string of plays as they attempted to take the lead early in the second quarter. After picking up three first downs on the drive, Phil Collier put an end to the scoring threat when he dropped Tiger quarterback Chazz Anderson in the backfield on 4th and 3 from the Piqua 24. The 11 play drive only picked up 40 yards and resulted in a turnover on downs.
The Tigers shut down the Piqua offense once again, which brought up a 4th and 5 from the Indians 48 yard line. But, using a bit of trickery, Saine took the direct snap on a punt and outran everyone as he picked up some great blocks along the way for a 52 yard touchdown run. Reed's extra point attempt sailed wide but Piqua was out in front, 13-7 with 6:52 remaining in the opening half.
"That's something we worked on all week at practice," Piqua head coach Bill Nees, who claimed his first state title as a coach, said. "We thought we could get Brandon through the line with their heavy rush. It was the perfect call at the right time in the state championship."
Anderson led the Tigers into Indian territory once again. However, on 4th and 4 from the 32 yard line, Anderson threw a pass over his target and into the waiting arms of Piqua safety Bryant Fox. Fox returned the ball 32 yards to the Central 49 yard line.
Piqua's offense took full advantage of the situation. Justin Hemm picked up 11 yards on 3rd and 4 to keep the drive alive. After Piqua took a timeout with 1:38 to play, the Tribe was called for a false start penalty, setting up 3rd and 7 from the 29. Saine took a handoff on a draw and cruised through the middle of the defense on his way to a touchdown, his third of the half. The six play drive used 2:04 off the clock.
Reed intercepted an Anderson pass on the ensuing possession. However, the Indians failed to convert and headed into the locker room enjoying a 19-7 lead.
The third quarter came and went as the teams punted a total of two times each. Heading into the fourth and final quarter, the Indians were still out in front by the same score.
Piqua's final touchdown of the game came as a bit of a surprise, much to the delight of the Indian Nation portion of the 7,839 fans in attendance. After David Rolf pinned the Tigers back at their own 19 yard line with a punt, the defense took control.
A personal foul on the punt return pushed the ball back to the 9 yard line. Anderson avoided heavy pressure in his own end zone and in an attempt to make something out of nothing, he threw a pass into the hands of defensive lineman Jafe Pitcock. Pitcock strolled into the end zone with an 8 yard interception return for a touchdown to push the lead to 26-7.
"I can't explain what happened on the touchdown," Pitcock said with a smile. "I got the ball and just took off for the end zone. I had a chance against Toledo Central Catholic in week 11 and couldn't catch the ball."
Central fumbled away the ensuing kickoff and Piqua recovered and showed some respect for the Tigers as they took a knee to end the game at the Pickerington 8 yard line.
The win pushed the Piqua record to 13-2 on the season and set a new school record for wins in a single season. The previous mark was 12, which was held by this year's squad along with the 1994 and 2000 teams.
Saine finished with 236 rushing yards on 32 carries and three touchdowns. As a team, the Indians rushed for 246 yards and threw for 36. He rushed for 195 of his 236 in the first half.
"They showed they are a state caliber team," Saine said as he gave credit to the Pickerington defense. "They were hitting hard all night."
The Piqua offense was able to control the ball for 28:09 of the game, 9:23 of which came in the fourth quarter. Piqua also converted two of three fourth down attempts.
"I thought our offensive line took charge of the game at times," Nees said. "We were able to get some key first downs when we needed them. By doing that we were able to use a lot of the clock."
Piqua's defense stepped up, as they have done all year, when it mattered the most. Central could only muster 167 total yards on offense as the Indian defense forced four turnovers.
"We just followed our keys on defense," Pete Rolf said. "We knew they had a pretty good offense but after that first drive, we were able to adjust to their speed and settle down a little bit."
When asked about adding a football state championship to his resume, Saine was quick to talk about the difference in winning a team title opposed to his individual track state championships.
"Football is my favorite sport," he said. "This championship is better than track because we all get to share this one. It's an amazing feeling that I can't explain right now."
After two visits to Stark County in the last six seasons, Nees praised everyone involved in the program.
"We've had some excellent football players come through our system," he said. "The parents are very supportive and get the kids where they need to be with very few complaints. Our players work hard as a result of that and deal with any adversity thrown their way."
It showed that the Indians can deal with adversity as they battled through challenge after challenge all season long. The end result couldn't be any better as the Indians return home with a state championship trophy.