By Tom Ramstetter, WCPO contributor
Steve Specht thought it was the greatest play call ever made at St. Xavier High School.
Bombers senior quarterback Brad Scherer rolled to his left and threw to Darius Ashley, who was all alone in the left side of the end zone on the south end of Paul Brown Stadium, for a 20-yard touchdown. That play gave the Bombers a 12-9 win over then-defending Division I state champion Colerain in a Division I, Region 4 semifinal game before an estimated crowd of 35,000 on Nov. 12, 2005.
It was just the bit of offensive genius needed to end a defensive slugfest typical of the Colerain-St. Xavier rivalry, especially in the mid-2000s.
The Bombers were ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press Division I poll and 10th in the USA Today Super 25 national poll at the time. Colerain was No. 6 in the state poll and 18th in the Super 25.
The teams had played to a 6-6 stalemate through regulation -- two field goals each.
"I let my coaches coach," Specht said after the game. "That last play call was Bobby Klotz and Mike Heizman, the two guys that pretty much spearhead our offense. Those guys did it all."
Cardinals head coach Kerry Coombs said after the game that the play was not something his defense had seen on film or had prepared for. Even Specht couldn't believe what he was seeing.
"I thought they called a boot and I'm looking for our quarterback to roll out," Specht said. "When I saw him throw backside, I thought to myself that might be the greatest call that we've ever made at St. Xavier High School."
The St. X defense had held Colerain to a Matt Schulte field goal on its first possession of overtime. Then the Bombers unleashed the play.
"We had Darius going out of the backfield, like a little wheel pattern," Scherer said after the game. "Jimmy (Hobson) lined up at left tight end, and he kind of went right down the post and occupied the corner. I just booted out (left) and threw it to Darius."
As the ball traveled through the air, fans inside Paul Brown Stadium began to roar and Cardinals defenders could only look on in horror. Specht looked on, too.
"The first thing I thought was, 'Oh God, please Darius, catch the football.' Then when he caught the football, the first thing I thought was let me run over and shake their hands and make sure this isn't a dream."
Scherer didn't expect such a wide-open target.
"No, not at all," Scherer said. "I threw it and it seemed like somebody missed it. I don't know what happened. I just kind of threw it up and after I threw it, I was like, 'Whoa, he's wide-open.'"
Ashley, who had emerged that season as a star sophomore running back with 1,634 yards and 26 touchdowns, came up big with his hands on this night.
"I didn't expect it to be that wide open," Ashley said. "But I knew if it came to me, I had to catch it. When it went up in the air, I pretty much blacked out. Brad made a great decision, he threw it across the field, and I was open. Everybody stepped up when they had to."
The final score was the first lead of the game for St. X. Colerain led 3-0 in the first quarter, 6-3 in the third and 9-6 in overtime. Schulte kicked field goals of 45, 27, and 23 yards. St. X sophomore Danny Milligan kicked field goals of 45 and 23 yards.
"It's just two great teams and one team wins and one team loses," Coombs said. "They're a great team. My hat's off to them. I thought they played extremely well. I hope they win the state."
Colerain, which averaged 364 yards on the ground in 2005, mustered only 150 rushing and 173 total offense. St. X was under its rushing average of 228 at 174 and had 237 yards of total offense.
"That's a pretty tremendous accomplishment, because Colerain's offense is as good as it gets -- and I'm talking as good as it gets in the country," Specht said. "They run that triple (option). If there's a high school that runs it better than them, I'd be shocked.
"I tell (the defense) every day, play as hard as you can. Play every play like it was your last and you'll be successful. They do."
Colerain's season ended at 10-2. The Cards' only other loss in 2005 was a 7-0 final against St. X at Nippert Stadium in the Crosstown Showdown to open the season.
"It was just an amazing game," Scherer said. "Colerain's a great team. They're fast. They're strong. It was a heck of a battle."
St. Xavier was 12-0 and three wins from the school's first football state championship. The Bombers rolled past Huber Heights Wayne the next week at Nippert Stadium, 42-7, in the regional final and outlasted Hilliard Davidson, 17-10, Nov. 26 in the state semifinal at Miami University's Yager Stadium. The Bombers needed a late interception by senior defensive back Frank Morand in the end zone on a fourth-and-11 play with just less than 50 seconds remaining to beat Davidson, which would go on to win the 2006 Division I state title.
Then it was on to Canton for a date with the storied Massillon Tigers, who claimed 22 state poll championships and nine mythical national championships before the Ohio High School Athletic Association went to a playoffs format in 1972, but none won on the field. Before 2005, the Tigers had been in the playoffs 14 times, the state semifinals four times and the championship game twice, losing 30-7 to Moeller in 1980 and 35-14 to the Crusaders in 1982.
St. X had been 0-3 in state finals appearances, most recently losing to Cleveland St. Ignatius in 2001. That state title drought ended in a 24-17 win on Dec. 3, 2005, before a crowd of 20,227 at Fawcett Stadium.
The Bombers led 24-3 with 5:48 to play in the third quarter of the state final after Ashley scored his 10th touchdown of the playoffs and the 28th of the season. Then St. X held back a late comeback attempt by the Tigers to win.
"It feels tremendous, not only for our team but for the teams previous that never got the chance, and just to represent the whole St. X community," Scherer said after the state final.
"It's great because it's the first one in 175 years of St. X history," senior linebacker Alex Albright said.
Ashley and a talented St. Xavier Class of 2008 returned to the state final in December 2007 and routed Mentor, 27-0, to win the school's second state football title.
"This group is going to go down in history as probably the best football team that St. Xavier High School has ever had," Specht said in 2007.
The surprising run to state in 2016 finally produced a third state title for Specht and the Bombers last season.