Needing a win to guarantee a playoff spot, the Southern Ohio Spartans had a chance to seal a victory over the Cincinnati Xtreme on the goal line Saturday night in New Boston Stadium. With the Spartans trailing 13-12, Duke Edwards’ fourth down pass with less than a minute remaining fell incomplete, securing the victory for the Xtreme.
However, a loss by the Cincinnati Bulldogs later that night moved the Spartans to eighth in the standings, allowing Southern Ohio to clinch it’s first playoff spot in franchise history.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my guys for making the post season in their second year being in the league,” Spartan head coach Michael Parker said. “The team lost but they gave maximum effort, and I can live with that.”
The Spartans led the Xtreme for most of the second half by a score of 12-6, but a Cincinnati touchdown and extra point late in the third quarter proved to be the difference. Not that the Spartans had ample chances.
With five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Spartans had the ball inside the Xtreme five-yard line. However, the Spartans third fumble of the game gave the football back to the visitors with little time remaining.
“I think without the turnovers, I don’t think it would have come down to that last fourth down play,” Parker said.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Spartan special teams came up with a huge block on an Xtreme punt to give Southern Ohio the ball in the red zone once again. But without a reliable kicker and time running short, the Spartans were unable to put any points on the board before turning the ball back over to Cincinnati.
“It feels terrible. I’ve been second-guessing and questioning myself all weekend,” Parker said. “I know that any game you play doesn’t come down to one play. There’s a lot of plays to be made in football, and there were some turnovers, some penalties that took us out of drives, we still hung in there as a team and had the opportunity to win the game at the end.”
Despite the tough loss, the Spartans are still in the hunt for a Northern Frontier Football League Championship. Just one season after going 2-8, Southern Ohio reached the .500 mark and will compete in the eight-team, three week playoff.
“It’s still a big accomplishment from last year. This is a totally different team,” Parker said. “It says a lot about the guys’ character and the effort they put in to get better.”
The Spartans will have a tough task in the first round: on the road against the top-seeded Cincinnati Hawks, the sixth-ranked semi-pro team in the country by Amateur Football Power Rankings. Though they’ll be a sizable underdog, Parker is ready for the challenge.
“Anything can happen on any given Saturday,” Parker said. “I just want us to go in there and play hard and see what happens. I don’t want us to go into the game already defeated. As long as I get maximum effort from each and every player, I’ll be proud.”
Alex Hider can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter