After trailing 20-12 at the half, South Putnam had run off 15 unanswered to take a 27-20 lead with 3:09 to play in the third quarter.
However, the hosts took the next eight minutes to give South Putnam a hard lesson in what their big play offense can do.
Smith tossed three touchdown passes on his next three throws to lead the Golden Eagles (10-3) to a 41-27 victory over the Eagles (10-3).
"We were in position to make some plays. You have to give Guerin Catholic some credit," South Putnam coach Troy Burgess said. "They made the plays when they needed to make them. (Smith) put the ball out there and got it in their athletes' hands and their athletes made plays."
The Guerin quarterback threw the ball only three times in the game's final 15 minutes, but he totaled 159 yards and three touchdowns on those throws.
Connor Howard scored from 50 yards out to tie the game with 2:09 to play in the third quarter.
In the fourth, Sammy Adams put Guerin up 34-27 on a 28-yard catch with 11:07 to play. Howard then caught his really big play of the game, an 81-yard catch and run to bring the game to its final score with 7:33 remaining.
In fact, every pass Smith threw in the second half was a big play for one of the two teams. Besides the three TDs and the Bumgardner return, he had found Mitchell Paige for a 45-yard hookup earlier in the third.
"I don't think it was a situation where we weren't doing our jobs," Burgess said. "Their athletes made plays when they need to make them. There's nothing you can do about that. It's just a good football team making good plays when they needed to.
"Hats off to them. They did a great job."
Unfortunately, down 14 points with less than eight minutes left isn't exactly what the Eagles' running and play action passing game is built for.
"When you're down 14, the play action doesn't fool a whole lot of people. They knew we were going to throw the ball. They were able to blitz and tee off on us a little bit there," Burgess said.
"It's the offense we run," he added. "It's been pretty successful up to this point, but when you're behind like that, we're not built to spread it out and throw the football."
Still, give South Putnam credit for a battle to the end. They took the ball over with 3:44 to play and got as close to the Guerin 15-yard line before an interception in the endzone sealed the deal.
"Give our kids credit -- we battled right back down there to the end," Burgess said. "We about got one in there and then, you don't know what's going to happen at that point."
From a competition standpoint, the first half may have been the most compelling part of the game. The Eagles of course rode their workhorse running back Rob Gibson, who carried 35 times for 143 yards.
"Rob's done what he's done all year long. He's an All-State-caliber player," Burgess said. "We've rode him now for 13 weeks. We don't ever mention one player -- we talk about our team. Rob would be the first one to say it's about our guys up front, and it is. Our guys up front do a great job."
But it was another senior who found the endzone on two of the Eagles' three offensive touchdowns. Wade Custis caught Seth Hammond passes of 10 and 7 yards for South Putnam's first and third scores.
"You look at our play action passes -- Wade was a big part of that about midseason," Burgess said. "Then teams started keying on that and we changed some things up. Then we went back to what we were doing the middle of the season. We try to get him the ball out of the backfield -- they kind of forget about him."
After Custis' first score put South up 6-0 with 6:33 left in the first, Guerin took no time answering. Paige took the ensuing kickoff 75 yards to paydirt, and the Greg Goodin extra point made it 7-6 Guerin Catholic.
Gibson got into the act in the second quarter, scoring on a 9-yard run with 11:01 remaining. South Putnam again failed to convert on the conversion, and led 12-7.
"He's just a tremendous athlete, a tremendous player," Burgess said. "I just told him, I've done this 23 years and the kid's the best football player I've coached."
Guerin's special teams got even more involved when a drive stalled, and Goodin connected on 22-yard field goal.
Drew Dehnke then scored from 17 yards out as Guerin regained the lead, 17-12, with 5:07 to play.
Goodin closed out the first half scoring with a 34-yard field goal and a 20-12 halftime lead.
The Eagles opened the second half well, the big play of the drive coming on a Hammond-to-Bumgardner 51-yard catch and run. That set the offense up for Custis' second touchdown with 9:37 left in the quarter.
"We were able to be effective. Seth did a good job of getting him the ball and Wade did the rest," Burgess said.
A Gibson 2-point conversion tied the game, but they were the last points the Eagle offense would muster. Following the Bumgardner pick-six, it was all Guerin.
Hammond was 9-of-21 for two touchdowns and two interceptions. Bumgardner led the way receiving, with three catches for 66 yards.
While the loss was a heartbreaker for the Eagles, the coach reminded his team they how far it has come in a few months.
"Back in June, if someone had said you'll go 10-3 and play for a regional championship, you'd have jumped at that. We all would've jumped at that," Burgess said. "You played hard. You represented South Putnam. You represented Putnam County."
Friday's sub-40-degree temperatures were a reminder it was Nov. 11. All season long, this month has been a goal for the team.
"We set the goal to play in November," Burges said. "You feel like if you're playing in November, you're playing for championships. We accomplished that. We played for two championships and we were fortunate enough to get one of the two."
At Guerin Catholic
IHSAA Class 2A Regional
|South Putnam||6 6 15 0 -- 27|
|Guerin Catholic||7 13 7 14 -- 41|
SP: Custis 10-yd. pass from Hammond (kick failed) 6:33
Gu: Paige 75-yd. kickoff return (Goodin kick) 6:18
SP: Gibson 9-yd. run (pass failed) 11:01
Gu: Goodin 22-yd. FG 6:51
Gu: Dehnke 17-yd. run (Goodin kick) 5:07
Gu: Goodin 34-yd. FG 0:13
SP: Custis 7-yd. pass from Hammond (Gibson run) 9:37
SP: Bumgardner 70-yd. interception return (Yon kick) 3:09
Gu: Howard 50-yd. pass from Smith (Goodin kick) 2:09
Gu: Adams 28-yd. pass from Smith (Goodin kick) 11:17
Gu: Howard 81-yd. pass from Smith (Goodin kick) 7:35
South Putnam (10-3):
Rushing (49 carries, 155 yards) -- Gibson 35-143, Z. Smith 5-27, Custis 1-3, Hammond 8-(-18)
Passing (9-21, 97 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) -- Hammond 9-21-2-2, 97 yards
Receiving -- Bumgardner 3-66, Custis 2-17, Heller 3-13, Gibson 1-7
Guerin Catholic (10-3):
Rushing (26 carries, 81 yards) -- Dehnke 10-54, Evans 1-19, Paige 5-13, Meyer 4-2, Smith 6-(-17)