STOW — It took two hours, three overtimes and more heroes than are normally needed in one game for things to be decided between University and Kenston in a Division II district semifinal at Stow on Wednesday.
What else would you expect from a pair of 18-3 teams seeded No. 2 and No. 3, respectively?
When the dust settled and the final second of the 44th minute of the game had ticked away, one of two very talented teams was sent home for the season, and the other survived to play for a district crown Saturday.
Survival was the optimal word for the Preppers as they overcame a heartbreaking call at the end of regulation, losing their best player to fouls and a five-point deficit in the second OT to beat the Bombers, 62-60.
With the win, US (19-3) advanced to play Benedictine at 3 p.m. Saturday for a spot in the Division II regional tournament at Canton next week. The Bengals had no such drama, using an array of impressive transition plays and thunderous dunks to defeat Aurora in the other semifinal, 73-36.
"I told the guys this game made me more nervous than any game we've played in two years because Kenston is probably the hardest team to prepare for that we have played," US coach Chris Osolin said. "They are so well-coached, and they play such tremendous defense. This didn't surprise me at all."
The teams were tied at 16 at halftime and again at 43 after a jumper by standout sophomore Eric Truog (18 points, 12 rebounds) rolled in with 5 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. The Preppers had to rally mentally as well as physically in the OT after a shot by senior Richard Morrow at the buzzer dropped in, but was ruled that it was after the horn sounded.
Truog tied the game again at the end of the first overtime to force the second extra 4-minute session. In double overtime, Kenston got six quick points from Jack Rolf to scoot away to a 56-51 edge, but an unlikely 3-pointer by US forward Danny Frate cut that lead to two, and Harry Briggs broke the Bombers' heart with a coast-to-coast layup at the buzzer to knot the score at 56 and force the third OT.
Morrow — a first-team all-Northeast Lakes District selection — fouled out in the second overtime with 13 points and eight rebounds, but did as much for his teammates as he could from the bench.
"Rich came out of the game, and he told us all that we had to believe," Briggs said. "We just didn't want our season to end tonight."
Senior Matt Kelly (14 points) had a key basket in the third overtime, and sophomore Jordan Barham hit three of four free throws in the final 30 seconds to push the Preppers into a second meeting this season with the Bengals.
For Kenston coach Josh Jakacki, he had respect for the magnitude of the events that unfolded, but disappointment for the players in his locker room.
"I looked at my coaches in the third OT and told them it was a shame someone was going to lose the game," Jakacki said.
"Those were two 18-3 teams laying it on the line in what felt like a district championship game. And there were heroes all around the place tonight."
Frate, Briggs and Barham had their heroic moments after Morrow's turn as hero in regulation came a split second too late.
On the Kenston side, Rolf led the way with 20 points, followed by Truog's 18 and Justin Brownlow and Jeff Catlin, each with 10.