Tucker Nolen

Lucas junior Tucker Nolen celebrates the game-winning TD pass in the Cubs' 15-12 state semifinal victory over Harvest Prep on Saturday night in Columbus.

COLUMBUS -- Lucas turned a defensive duel in the Division VII state semifinals into a dramatic, 15-12 victory over Canal Winchester Harvest Prep that made some of the Cubs sick, in a good way, on Saturday night in Columbus.

"I'm sorry, it's hard for me to talk. I'm really nauseous," Lucas quarterback Logan Niswander said while fighting off tears after tossing the game-winning 13-yard TD pass on fourth-and-goal with 57 seconds to play.

It wasn't any easier on the Cubs' fans.

Lucas (12-2) put everyone though the emotional ringer. Coach Scott Spitler's team lost a fourth-quarter lead, regained it with the most clutch drive in the history of Richland County football (which traveled 80 yards on 13 plays and ate 6:38 of the final period), then capped it with an improbable touchdown pass.

"It was a simple motion over, flood pattern," said tight end Riley Mounts, who hauled in the pass in the corner of the end zone. "I was blocking, hedged over and released.

"It was nerve-wracking waiting on (the pass). I was wide open when he threw it, but someone was on me when I caught it."

Mounts said it was the first time all season the Cubs ran the play, which Spitler drew up on the sideline during a timeout just before the snap. It was also just Mounts' second scoring catch this year, the other one came in a victory over Willard.

Still, Harvest Prep coach Milan Smith said the Warriors' coaches were wary of the throwback pattern.

"We told them that's what was coming," Smith said. "I think our defense played stellar except for a couple of plays. Those things happen."

The see-saw affair sends Lucas into Saturday's 10 a.m. state championship game in Canton against perennial powerhouse Maria Stein Marion Local. The Flyers (12-2) blasted Patrick Henry 40-7 on Saturday night in the other state semifinal.

Niswander's historic pass was the second monster play he made on the game-winning march. Lucas took over on its own 20 with 7:35 remaining and trailed 12-7.

"We knew we had eight minutes and if we were going to win it was more than likely going to have to happen on this drive to win this game," he said. "We figured it was going to take up most of that time to get down there."

It would have taken even longer if not for the senior's other big play. At the Lucas 49, Niswander pulled the ball on a counter and streaked 45 yards to the Harvest Prep 6-yard line.

"It was just a counter play and we had been running a lot of sweeps," Niswander said. "I held it a little bit longer trying to follow their linebacker. When I kept it the field just opened up and I was like, 'Holy Crap!' "

Still, Harvest Prep's defense dug in, throwing Lucas for losses on each of the next three plays before the improbable TD toss.

"Lucas did an incredible job," Smith said. "They're an incredible team."

The decision snapped the Warriors' 12-game winning streak. They dropped the season-opener 13-12 to Columbus Eastmoor and then disposed of a dozen foes before running into the Cubs.

As his players greeted fans, Spitler had a firm grip on the game ball while basking in the after-glow of an unforgettable victory.

"We told them 'Love your family. Trust your family. Fight for your family,' " the coach said. "That's what they did."

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I've lived in Richland Co. since 1990, married here, our children were born here. This is home. I have two books published on a passion topic, Ohio high school football. Others: Buckeyes, Cavs, Bengals, Reds, History, Disney.

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