A hobbled Constantine football team reached the end of the line Saturday in a 47-28 loss to Clinton in the Division 6 regional finals. Perhaps the end of a winding road would be more accurate. Clinton will take on No. 9 Shelby (11-1) in the state semifinals.
The Falcons (7-5) eked into the playoffs but crushed their first two opponents for a district championship. Against undefeated and fourth-ranked Clinton, a third-quarter rally looked like it might be in the cards despite losing starting quarterback Matt Hasbrouck late in the first half due to a broken collarbone.
Down 34-21, QB Nick West led Constantine to a first-and-goal, but the drive came up empty. It was the possession that stood out most in Falcons coach Shawn Griffith’s mind.
“We just didn’t move the ball well on first and second down and kind of put ourselves in a hole and weren’t able to put that one in,” he said. “If we would have been able to put that one in I think it would have had a huge effect on the game.”
Maybe having running back Justin Hull, who tore ligaments in his knee in the final regular season game, would have made a difference. Maybe running back Andres Montoya, who has been dealing with a pulled groin, could have done more had he been healthy.
All hypotheticals. That which is real, Griffith said, were the gritty performances through adversity his kids turned in this season.
“Our kids didn’t quit,” he said. “I think we were beat by a better football team. Sometimes that happens.”
On the defensive side of the ball Constantine struggled with tackling, which is a major problem in the postseason. And with all the capable and shifty ball carriers the Redskins boast, failing to wrap up was ultimately the Falcons’ undoing.
Colin Poore entered the game as the biggest target. What Constantine didn’t expect was Matthew Sexton to pull in a measly four catches and turn them into 169 yards and four touchdowns — 149 yards coming after short receptions. Quarterback TJ Baker completed 8 of 11 passing attempts for 200 yards and he added 77 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Poore finished with 160 yards and a TD on the ground for Clinton, which totaled 449 yards on just 33 plays. Constantine ran 76 plays for 386 yards.
“He played out of his mind,” Griffith said of Sexton. “He had the game of his life. Poore is the kid that broke a couple long runs as well; he’s the one that we thought we’d have to spot, and of course the quarterback, Baker. Sexton had the great first half; hats off to him. We were certainly trying to press up and stop the run from the two [other] guys and [Sexton] got into some one-on-one situations where he was able to take advantage.
“Really, we were kind of a M.A.S.H. unit there in the second half. I was pretty impressed with what we were able to do on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, we didn’t tackle well enough. When you don’t tackle well in championship games you don’t normally win them.”
Montoya paced the Falcons with 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns, followed by Spencer Tefft, who rolled his ankle in pregame warmups, with 98 yards.
The game was tied at 14-14 before Clinton tacked on two late touchdowns in the first quarter and another early in the second. Taylor Reiff stomped the hemorrhage with a one-yard TD run in the second frame to get into the locker room down 34-21.
The missed opportunity in the third quarter led to a 75-yard touchdown run by Poore that essentially knocked Constantine out.
“I had a great group of seniors and enjoyed working with these kids,” Griffith said. “It was nice to be able to have a chance just to be in the playoffs and to win a district. We competed hard today and that’s why you do this sport. Everybody wants every team to win every game, but that doesn’t happen.
“When our kids come out and perform the way they have all season … the key is not whether you win or lose, but how you respond to adversity because you’re going to have adversity in life. These kids have proved they can overcome a lot of odds and do good things. Hopefully they’ll take that with them and be able to turn it into good things in the future.”