Springwood trounces Southern Prep to book spot in state championship game

Published 12:20 am Friday, November 10, 2023

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Springwood will play for an AISA State Championship again this season after toppling Southern Prep 61-14 in the state semifinals on Thursday.

“We are excited because we worked all year to get back to the championship,” Springwood coach Joey Burch said. “The kids put it all out there on the line tonight and that was the hardest I’ve seen them play. We had a strong desire to get back”

The Wildcats pulled away with it after the first quarter, dominating the Rangers over the final 36 minutes of the game, but there was little to separate the teams in the opening quarter.

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After Tucker Sides and Dylan Reeves tackled a Ranger runner short of the sticks on fourth and two from the Springwood 40-yard line, the Wildcats struck quickly. Senior quarterback Luke Hudson connected with CJ Johnson for a 35-yard touchdown pass.

“The offensive line just took control of the game from the start,” Burch said. “We got into a heavy set and everybody in the stadium knew where we were running it, but it is about whether they can stop it or not.”

The Rangers thought they scored on the first play on the ensuing drive when Kevin Mason ran down the field 55 yards and into the end zone, but a block in the back penalty brought it back.

Southern Prep eventually did respond when Mason scored on a 60-yard run, but the failed two-point conversion preserved the lead for the Wildcats.

The Rangers recovered an onside as momentum swung in their direction. They drove right down the field until Greg Johnson forced a fumble on a sack that Braiden Moseley recovered. It was the pivotal play of the game as Johnson took the very first offensive play following the turnover 92 yards to the house with a two-point conversion making it a 16-6 ballgame.

“That was a huge momentum swing for us,” Burch said. “That was just a football player making a big football play.”

The Wildcat defense was the real difference maker in the second quarter, forcing three turnovers in total that the offense turned into three touchdowns.

“The defense played great tonight,” Burch said. “That team had been dropping 60, 70 points on people the last few weeks.” 

Parker Fuller got a fumble recovery on the Ranger 36-yard line and Dylan Reeves had a long interception return that set up the Wildcats at the 12-yard line.

Reeves was the benefactor of both of those turnovers as he scored on a 4-yard run with 4:22 left in the first half before catching a 7-yard pass from Hudson to put the Wildcats up 30-6. 

Southern Prep got on the board once again with just 11.4 seconds left in the first half to cut the Wildcat lead to 30-14 at the break.

The third quarter was dominated by defense with the Wildcats throwing an interception on their first drive of the second half and the Rangers turning it over on downs on Springwood’s 25-yard line.

The Wildcats methodically moved the ball down the field, finding the end zone on a 6-yard run from Johnson.

Reeves was not content with making an impact on the first three quarters and made another special play when he blew up the Rangers quarterback on fourth down to force a fumble that was promptly recovered by Sides.

“I came back here to play with my friends and I hope this wasn’t my last game,” Reeves said after suffering an injury late in the contest. “To play for back-to-back state championships is a dream. It feels surreal. If I’m playing or not I will be there for my guys.”

A fired-up Hudson scored when he plunged over the goal line from one yard out. A two-point conversion made it 46-14 Wildcats with 8:40 left in the game. 

The rout continued with Johnson finding the end zone once again on a 30-yard run with 5:36 left in the game. Johnson scored on a 45-yard run just a couple of minutes later.

“When I’m running like that I feel like I can’t be stopped,” Johnson said. “This is my first year here and I’ve always dreamed of playing for a state championship.”

Springwood will play next Thursday against Cornerstone at the Cramton Bowl at 10 a.m. CT in Montgomery. This will be the second consecutive season the Wildcats play for a state championship after falling 38-28 to Evangel Christian Academy last season.

“I think the main thing is that we have to get healthy because we only have a week before this game,” Burch said.