MARION — The comeback kids did it again. Now, the East Knox Bulldogs are regional champions.

The Bulldogs scored four touchdowns in the second half to defeat the Carey Blue Devils, 32-21, in their OHSAA Region 22 final at Ohio Health Stadium in Marion. The win puts the Bulldogs into their first final four ever. They will face off against Springfield next Friday.

“We have such a big heart,” said East Knox lineman Luke Grosscup. “When we have a goal, we accomplish it. It feels amazing. It’s phenomenal.”

Down, 21-7 in the third quarter, the Bulldogs reeled off three touchdowns in five minutes and 11 seconds, ending the third quarter with a 61-yard pass from quarterback Kadden Lester to running back Caleb Gallwitz to grab a 26-21 lead.

“We knew that Carey was a great football team,” Gallwitz said. “They are very well-coached and very physical. We came into this game with guns blazing as a team, as brothers with locked arms and got it done. It was a great team effort. Our linemen were amazing. Our whole town has been incredible. It feels like the whole world is behind us right now.”

Defensively, the Bulldogs came up big once again, getting a pair of second-half interceptions from Gage Steinmetz, one that set up the go-ahead touchdown by Gallwitz and the other with two minutes remaining in the game that all but put the game on ice for the Bulldogs.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Steinmetz said. “It’s the first time in school history that we’re in the final four. It’s a great time to be a Bulldog.”

Carey challenged the Bulldogs’ defense in the first quarter, going for it on 4th-and-1 from their own 31. East Knox defender Braden Kannady stopped Carey running back Reece Billock shy of a first down. The Bulldogs got the ball back and, a few plays later, Gallwitz took it into the endzone, putting his team on top, 7-0.

The Blue Devils got 97 yards on the ground in the first half. That includes 59 first-half yards from quarterback Ethan Beringer, who was also 5-of-10 for 80 yards passing in the first half. Beringer broke several runs for over 10 yards as he appeared to be reading the Bulldogs’ blitz. In the second half, the Bulldogs were able to hold him to a little over four yards per carry.

“We started mixing up our blitzes and seeing what they were doing,” said East Knox coach Cody Reese. “Our guys made great on-field adjustments as well. We always talk about staying disciplined, getting to the gap and making the plays when we need them to.”

Carey running back Conner Williams tied it up on a short TD run. With under a minute to go in the first half, Beringer hit receiver Bryce Conti on a 46-yard pass, which set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Billock. Early in the third quarter, Beringer scored on a 3-yard touchdown run to put Carey on top, 21-7.

Midway through the third, Lester found Gallwitz with a 27-yard pass to get the ball down near the Carey 10-yard line. On the next play, Lester tossed a touchdown pass to Weston Melick to shrink the Carey lead to 21-14 with 5:11 left in the third quarter.

“We saw that was going to be open and we called it,” Melick said. “Everyone executed it perfectly. That crowd was really behind us. They’re the 12th man for us.”

Lester had a strong second half, going 4-of-5 for 117 yards.

“The guys around me are great,” Lester said. “Whenever something is going wrong, there is always someone who is going to pick you right up. It’s a brotherhood for sure.”

A little over three minutes later, Gallwitz ran it in from nine yards for another touchdown, but they failed on the 2-point conversion and were still trailing 21-20.

The Bulldogs took the lead as time ran out in the third quarter on Lester’s second touchdown pass of the game. It was Gallwitz’s third TD of the game, but he wasn’t done. Gallwitz broke a 75-yard run with a little over four minutes left in the game, scoring a touchdown and allowing the Bulldogs and their fans to breathe easier.

“First of all, I want to say God is great,” said East Knox middle linebacker Dawson David. “I’m proud of our team. We keep getting down, but we play with heart every week and we never give up. That’s what football is all about.”

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Geoff Cowles: 740-397-5333 or and on Twitter, @



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