By Josh Brown
MECHANICSBURG — No matter what position Miami East’s defense put him in, Mechanicsburg’s Kaleb Romero found a way out of it.
Even when the Vikings made a play in their favor, it somehow turned against them.
And in the end, the third-seeded Mechanicsburg Indians (11-0) pulled away for a 39-6 victory in the Division VI, Region 24 quarterfinal playoff round over the sixth-seeded Miami East Vikings Friday night at Mechanicsburg High School.
“In Week 11 and beyond, if you have an opportunity to make a play, you have to make them if you want to be successful,” Miami East coach Max Current said. “We didn’t tackle well, they controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. We were in position to make plays on defense and didn’t make the tackle. We were in position to make plays on offense and didn’t catch the ball, didn’t make a good block.”
Romero had more than 200 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns by halftime, and Dustin Knapp added 76 rushing yards as the Indians piled up 324 total yards of offense before the break, while the Vikings (7-4) could only manage 31. In fact, the Indians ran more offensive plays on their third touchdown drive — a 16-play, 87 yarder — than the Vikings did in the entire half, with only 12.
The Indians began the game with possession, and the Vikings intercepted a Romero pass on the second play of scrimmage — but a fumble to end the play gave the ball right back to Mechanicsburg.
“That was a perfect example of an opportunity to make a big play on defense to start the game — and then we fumble it right back,” Current said. “For about three seconds, we had a ton of momentum, and then fumbled it right away.”
Romero hit Cameron Atchison with a 28-yard pass, then Knapp broke off a 25-yard run before being tackled at the 1-yard line. Two plays later, Romero scored from 2 yards out to put the Indians up 7-0 with 6:37 left in the first.
Miami East went three-and-out — though quarterback Arron Adams nearly hooked up on a long third-down pass play, only to see the receiver drop the ball — and Mechanicsburg went right back to work. Another eight-play, 67-yard drive ended in a 3-yard touchdown run by Knapp, set up by a 28-yard carry by Romero, and Mechanicsburg led 13-0 with 1:35 left in the opening quarter.
Justin Brown picked up an 11-yard gain for the Vikings’ first first down of the game, but they were again forced to punt early in the second quarter, pinning the Indians back on their own 13. But 16 plays and 87 yards later, the Indians scored again. Romero converted a third-and-13 with a 20-yard run, then after a holding penalty he converted a second-and-27 with a 38-yard carry. On third-and-2 from the East 13, he converted a 6-yard run, and then he finished the drive by weaving his way in from 7 yards out around the left side to make it 19-0 Mechanicsburg with 3:21 left in the half.
Miami East converted third-and-4 on a 5-yard run by Adams on its next possession to get the ball post midfield, but Romero intercepted a pass to give possession back to the Indians on their own 13 again. They ran the two-minute drill with an 11-play drive, and Alex Rhine kicked a 32-yard field goal with 0.7 seconds on the clock to give the Indians a 22-0 lead at the break.
Romero had 206 rushing yards on 20 carries at the break and was also 3 for 10 passing for 45 more yards with an interception. He finished the game with 245 rushing yards on 24 carries, while Knapp had 148 yards on 19 carries for the game.
“The kids gave a great effort,” Current said. “You can’t fault them for the effort. I hoped we would execute a little better. But the kids gave us great effort all season.”
The second half got off to a hectic start. Miami East went three-and-out and the Indians began driving, taking it to the Vikings’ 39. But Adams recovered a Mechanicsburg fumble, giving East possession on its own 35. A 15-yard facemask penalty on a screen pass from Ian Gengler to Brown pushed the ball past midfield, and the Vikings drove it to the Indian 33. But on fourth-and-6, Rhine intercepted a Miami East pass, giving the ball back to Mechanicsburg at its own 24.
An 11-play drive ensued, with some sloppiness near the goal line. A pair of holding penalties called back Romero touchdowns — either of which would have been his 30th rushing touchdown of the season. A facemask on Miami East kept the drive going, too, and on third-and-14 from the 15-yard line, Romero hit Drew Meyers for a 15-yard touchdown to make it 28-0 before the conversion.
A penalty on the Indians pushed it back five yards — but Romero still kept it up the middle and ran in the two-point conversion from 7 yards out to make it 30-0 and start the running clock at the end of the third quarter.
A bad snap on a Miami East punt attempt after a three-and-out made it 32-0 Mechanicsburg with 8:37 left in the fourth, then Joey Mascadri carried in a 1-yard touchdown to finish off a four-play, 32-yard drive to make it 39-0 with 5:33 to play.
Miami East recovered a Mechanicsburg fumble on the Indian 21 with 3:00 left to play, and Kaleb Nickels scored on a 3-yard run on the final play of the game to prevent the shutout.
The two teams had met in Miami East’s senior’s freshman year, as well, with Romero leading the Indians to a 31-14 victory in the regional semifinal round. Mechanicsburg moves on to face the winner between No. 2 Delphos Jefferson and No. 7 Summit Country Day.
The Vikings, meanwhile, finished the season by making their fifth consecutive playoff appearance — a streak they will work on extending next year.
“These seniors leave tied for the most wins by a class in school history,” Current said. “They had 34 wins. They played 45 games. That’s something to be proud of. We all feel rotten right now, but with what we’ve accomplished, we have nothing to hang our heads about. There’s a lot of teams out there that would’ve liked to have had this opportunity, and we were thankful to have it. I just hope the younger guys don’t take it for granted, learn from it and use it to fuel their fire in the offseason.
“I’d also like to thank all my assistant coaches — Kevin Evans, Steve Kirby, Todd Hawkins, Scot Brewer, Brad Rohlfs, Gene Steinke — for their dedication and support for the Viking program this season.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.