Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
XENIA — Southeastern quarterback Lane Ruby didn’t leave Xenia High School’s football complex Friday night without receiving a platoon of embraces from teammates, coaches, family and friends.
Ruby had just called the last play in the last game of his illustrious career, a four-year span where the spotlight was never too bright and the moment was never too big for him.
As he pulled his jersey to his eyes to wipe away tears, Ruby didn’t talk about himself … he’s never talked about himself. Instead, he once again showed why he’s a great football player, and it’s never had anything to do with how many yards he’s gained or how many times he’s scored.
“We’ve left a great legacy here,” Ruby said. “That all started in 2017. Those seniors started the hard work to get here. My class picked it up and rolled with it. We were in the weight room, lifting at 6:30 a.m., we worked hard, we got better each day … and that was for this, to get here. You can’t really prepare for a season like this. You just have to go out and work hard. Things then fall where they may. But we’ve left a great legacy here at Southeastern.”
Four years ago, Ruby and his classmates began the ride of a lifetime. At that point, they were freshmen learning from an older group that had already began laying the foundation of a successful football program.
PHOTOS: Images from Southeastern’s loss to Covington in a Division VI, Region 24 Semifinal
In 2017, they took a huge step forward as sophomores, finishing 11-1 and winning the program’s first-ever postseason game. Two years later, they’ve proven they could carry that torch in an ever-so prideful way, finishing 11-1 themselves with a Gold Ball and the program’s second-ever playoff win under their belts.
That journey ended Friday night with a 36-20 loss to Covington in a Division VI, Region 24 Semifinal. But the mark they left on the program resonates with their teammates who they now pass the torch to.
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“These seniors, when nobody was there for me, they’ve been there for me. That’s on and off the field,” junior Mikey Nusser said. “They pushed me to get better, on the field and in the classroom. They’ve always pushed us to get better and that’s what we’ve done.”
Ruby ends his career as the program’s all-time leading rusher with 5,173 rushing yards and the program’s all-time scoring leader with 72 touchdowns. He also holds the single-season rushing record with 2,306 yards … which he set this season.
With him under center, the Panthers have gone 35-10 over the past four seasons while making three playoff appearances.
A “bright future” is an understatement.
“This game has meant a lot to me,” Ruby said. “Football has kind of been my life for the past four years with my brothers. I know these guys are going to go off and do some great things. I’m geared towards track season and the All-American Game that I’ll be playing in. I’ve got a couple of schools that are looking at me. We’ll see.”
As for Friday’s game, the Panthers (11-1) got the start they wanted.
After both teams’ offenses went three-and-out to begin the game, the Panthers embarked on a 9-play, 82-yard drive … one that was sparked by a 51-yard pass to Tanner Chenault … that ended with a nine-yard touchdown run from Mikey Nusser.
After a successful two-point try, the Panthers had an 8-0 lead with 5:16 left in the first quarter.
Covington, however, had an answer.
The Buccs (10-2) completed a 74-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge, cutting the lead to 8-7 with 42 seconds left in the first.
On the Panthers’ next possession, the tides of momentum changed.
Facing 4th and 20 inside their own 10-yard line, Southeastern attempted to move the chains with a fake punt. Ruby couldn’t pick up the first down and Covington took over possession at SE’s 20-yard line. One minute and six seconds later, at the 9:54 mark, the Buccs took a 14-8 lead with an eight-yard rushing score.
Southeastern answered by taking the ball 48 yards to Covington’s two-yard line but failed to punch it in, keeping the score at 14-8 heading into the break.
Each team traded punts until Covington capitalized with a 6-play, 61-yard scoring drive with three minutes left in the third, taking a 22-8 lead after a two-point try. Southeastern countered when Ruby scored on seven-yard run with 10:09 remaining, making it 22-14.
But on the ensuing drive, the Buccs used a 61-yard run to put the ball in the red zone before taking a 29-14 lead with just 7:19 left. Southeastern scored again, via Ruby, with 3:03 left, to cut the lead to 29-20. However, that was the final time Southeastern found the end zone.
Covington delivered the final blow inside the two-minute mark, rounding out the final.
Ruby ended the night with 31 carries for 165 yards and two touchdowns while throwing for 108 yards. Nusser finished with 13 rushes for 42 yards for a score, Chenault had 55 receiving yards and Aarick Hill caught a 37-yard pass.
While Southeastern ends its season, the program will enter 2020 as the team to beat in the Scioto Valley Conference. Because of this year’s senior class, next year’s leaders already know what it takes to get back to the top.
“The team that we had this year, we were closer than any other team I’ve ever played for,” Nusser said. “We did everything together. If we went out to eat, we did it together. If we were at somebody’s house, we were together. It was something special. This team is going to be hard to beat. But we need to get close like we were this year, hit the weight room and put the work in. If we can do that, we’ll be fine.”