For a player who knew no feeling but victory this season, the 56-52 loss to Toledo Central Catholic in the OHSAA Division III state title game was especially devastating.
What he showed in the four quarters prior to that moment, though, is that he’ll have plenty of positive memories in Ohio Stadium one day. It took him just one play to complete his first pass on the home field of Ohio State, the school to which he is verbally committed, and he never stopped slinging it. The four-star prospect finished the game having completed 26 of 45 passes for 446 yards and six touchdowns. He also rushed for 54 yards.
All he could think about in the postgame press conference, however, was the one mistake he made in a performance filled with quick decision-making, effective running and college-level throws.
“The pick, first and foremost,” Burrow said. “That’s the only thing I’ll be thinking about for a while.”
It came in the third quarter, after Toledo Central Catholic had missed a field goal. With a chance to extend the Bulldogs’ 3-point lead, Burrow instead had his pass picked off by Jermiah Braswell. On the first play of the next drive, Toledo Central Catholic running back Tre’Von Wade took the handoff and raced 40 yards to the end zone.
He responded with touchdowns on all three fourth-quarter possessions, including the 12-play, 70-yard touchdown drive put Athens back on top with just under three minutes to play. After the game, Athens coach Ryan Adams mentioned that he wished more time could have been eaten up on the drive that spanned two minutes, 10 seconds. He’d trained his offensive players to go quickly, though, and that’s where they were at their best.
It led to record-breaking numbers for the offensive this season, although Burrow didn’t care to hear about that while seated at a table under the South Stands of Ohio Stadium.
“We forced defenses to cover the whole field and defend the whole field, but I can’t think about that right now,” Burrow said. “I’ve tried to reflect on it the last couple of minutes to get my mind of the game but I can’t. We just didn’t make enough plays. I threw a pick. Can’t do that in these kinds of games.”
Still, it’s unlikely the team would have even been there without Burrow, who picked up Ohio Mr. Football and Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year awards over the past week. His head coach recognized in him a fire that reminded him of Scott Stricklin, the coach that led Kent State’s baseball team to the 2012 College World Series while competing under all the perceived disadvantages of a non-Power 5 program that sits north of the Mason-Dixon line.
“I’ll be quite honest with you: Joe is obviously one of the greatest competitors that I have ever met," Adams said. "I compare him to one good friend of mine and that’s Scott Stricklin. He’s the head baseball coach at Georgia right now. I’ve been around a lot of people and a lot of walks of life and that’s the biggest thing I can say about Joe, is just what a competitor he is. He’s certainly elevated a lot of people around him over the years.
“Joe’s Joe. He’s such a mature kid. I’ve never had to impress trying to stay humble with Joe. When you have a player that has a maturity and the skill set that he has, there wasn’t a whole lot that I had to offer or that I had to give to Joe.”
Burrow was asked after the game how long it might take to associate Ohio Stadium with something other than the disappointment of the loss to the Irish. He’s reasonable enough to know that day will come but also emotional enough that it might take a while.
“There will come a time when I think I’ll be able to, but not for a while,” he said. “At least not until I get to Ohio State.”
Luckily for Burrow and Ohio State fans, that day will be here shortly.