SPRINGFIELD — Skeptics who questioned how well Springfield High could throw the football and whether the Bulldogs could execute in a key situation to win a playoff game got their answers.
Quarterback Shaquille Smith provided those answers by throwing for two touchdowns and engineering a fourth-quarter drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock as Springfield claimed a 24-6 victory in a Class 2A bidistrict playoff game played Friday night at SHS.
“I’ve believed in my receivers all year long,” Smith said. “And I’ve worked on my passing real hard in practice. I put the ball up there and they (Springfield receivers) went and got it.”
With the victory, Springfield (9-1), the No. 4 seed, advances to play No. 20 Northlake Christian (6-4), a District 8-2A rival, in the regional round. Northeast, a District 7-2A team making its eighth playoff appearance in 11 years, finished 4-6.
“Offensively and defensively, I thought we did a great job,” Springfield coach Ryan Serpas said. “It’s hard for me to believe that’s the 29th team in 2A. Those guys really fought, and it was anybody’s game, really until late in the third quarter.”
Smith ran for a game-high 79 yards on 17 carries and completed only two passes. But both counted big time. He had a 29-yard TD pass to Zack Clark late in the first half and a 39-yard scoring toss to Joseph Kemp in the third quarter after Northeast cut the Bulldogs lead to two points. Ghermaine Ashton added 71 yards for 19 carries.
Dominic Yates led Northeast with 12 carries for 51 yards. The Vikings had a punt return from a TD called back in the first half and did not score on three possessions inside the Springfield red zone.
“When you get inside the 20 three times and come away with no points and have a return for a touchdown called back, it’s tough,” Northeast coach David Masterson said. “When you get to this second season, the postseason, you can’t afford to miss any scoring opportunities.
“We had some shots to convert and didn’t. We had some turnovers and untimely penalties, but I thought our guys played hard. They’ll learn for this.”
There were missed opportunities for both teams in the first half before Springfield scored with just eight seconds remaining.
Clark caught the 29-yard TD pass from Smith, and Joseph Kemp caught the two-point PAT pass to make it an 8-0 game at halftime.
Northeast appeared to have the first big play just over two minutes into the game when Darryl Adams returned a Springfield punt 80 yards to the end zone. But the play was nullified by a block in the back.
The Vikings proceeded to drive to the Springfield 25 before the Bulldogs’ Josh Taylor recovered a Northeast fumble.
Early in the second quarter, Northeast halted a Springfield drive on at fourth-and-5 at the NHS 30. Quinton Cornelius batted down a Smith pass intended for one of two receivers who had slipped behind the secondary.
A 29-yard run by David Chatman helped NHS drive to the Springfield 15 late in the half. Springfield took over at its 15 with 1:25 left and drove for the score Smith-to-Clark score.
Adams helped set up Northeast’s lone score with a 35-yard punt return in the third quarter. D’Marcus Eubanks caught a 15-yard TD pass from Adams, making it an 8-6 game with 6:50 left in the quarter.
But Springfield answered. The Bulldogs were seemingly bogged down by a series of penalties. But on second-and-34, Smith tossed a 39-yard TD to Kemp. Clark’s two-point PAT run made it 16-6 with 5:16 to go in the third quarter.
A fumble recovery and short return by Marquiel Self put Northeast back in business at the Springfield 31. The Vikings drove to the SHS 11, but a 30-yard field goal Guillermo Diaz was off the mark with 10:53 left in the game.
Smith and Bulldogs took it from there and marched 80 yards for another score. Kimanae Claiborne scored on an 11-yard run with 2:56 remaining to clinch the win.