COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Bears' defense stared down the Tigers on fourth down in overtime. After a long, frigid night of both ups and downs, it was unsure whether the defense could hold. Luckily, for coach Justin Buttermore and his team, it did.
Upper Arlington defeated Pickerington Central 21-14 on Friday at Westerville Central's Warhawk Field in triple overtime to win the Division I Region 3 Championship.
The Bears (14-0) moved on to the state Final Four while Pickerington Central (12-2) headed into the offseason.
Upper Arlington quarterback Simon Monnin threw the game-winning touchdown to receiver Chris Mazzaferri to give the Bears the lead in the game's third overtime period.
Buttermore said he is proud of his team's ability to persevere through the adversity the Tigers gave them.
"They're just so mentally tough," Buttermore said. "You've got to be physically tough in pack one things like that, but mental toughness and the ability to find something deep inside of you when things are hard, that's what great teams are all about."
Receiver Chris Mazzaferri catches the ball in the end zone to give the Bears' their second touchdown.
Upper Arlington started the scoring with two touchdowns in the first quarter on throws from Monnin. He would end the game with three scores and over 100 yards passing.
Buttermore said that Monnin dealt with many challenges from the Tigers' defense, but he pulled through especially on the game-winning touchdown.
"It wasn't easy, he had some adversity obviously because their defense is very very good," Buttermore. "He hung tough though and made that big play and the third overtime there to help us win."
Pickerington Central battled back with a second-quarter touchdown and a score on its first drive of the second half.
The 14-14 gridlock would stand until two minutes remained in the fourth quarter, and Upper Arlington had a chance to win the game on a field goal.
However, the kick was blocked by the Tigers, and the fourth quarter would soon come to a close.
For the first two overtimes, neither team was able to score even though Pickerington Central would reach as close as the two-yard-line before being stopped by the Bears.
Then, on the first play of the third overtime, Monnin slung the ball to Mazzaferri for a screen pass, and the receiver ran the rest of the way untouched for the 20-yard go-ahead score.
The Bears' defense then held to secure their victory.
Upper Arlington will now play St. Edward next Friday night in the State Final Four for a chance at the Divison I State Championship.
Pickerington Central's season ended on Friday, but it will likely come back next year with a new attitude to reach further than the Regional Finals next season.
Buttermore said he told his players to savor this moment, and he is proud of the performance and improvement of his team since going 3-5 last season.
"It's special. I mean, it's like I told the kids, this isn't something you did not get to do very often," Buttermore said. "So for this group to come back after a tough year last year and put us in this position is just special."