WARREN - Down 7 at the half, Crestview was in a very good position to gain a victory against the defending Division V state champs on Saturday at Mollenkopf Stadium.
Winners of 26 straight, Kirtland had a good idea how it was going to play out.
"I told the players (at halftime) 'When you run the ball as much as we do, typically you run it better in the second half'" Kirtland coach Tiger Laverde said. "The power game works better as the game goes on. I think we wore them down. In the second half we had some long sustained drives that broke their back. The time of possession in the second half was a lot to a little."
After Crestview ran just four offensive plays from scrimmage in the third quarter there was little doubt how it was going to go as Kirtland stuck a 28-14 result on the board to move onto the regional final. The second-ranked Hornets (12-0) will meet Ursuline at 7 p.m. Saturday at a site to be determined. Ursuline beat Cuyahoga Heights 44-15 in Saturday's other Division V, Region 17 game. The Irish are the last team to beat the Hornets.
Fifth-ranked Crestview ended its season with an 11-1 mark and also broke the mark for the most points scored (628) by any Columbiana County team in a single season.
"We made some plays in the first half, but we had some penalties and other mistakes," Crestview coach Paul Cusick said. "At this level you can't do that. For instance, we had that touchdown called back on an illegal formation call. We had not had that called against us all year. We did some things poorly tonight, but a lot of it has to do with who we were playing. They're a good football team and your margin for error is very little."
Down 7-0 after a Damon Washington 54-yard touchdown run, the Rebels nearly answered when Collin Gilbert hit Nick Blower on what was thought to have been a 13-yard touchdown strike on the first play of the second quarter. The flag was for an illegal formation. The drive resulted in a 33-yard missed field goal. A play later, Kaleb Baker recovered a fumble at the 20, but the Rebels came up dry again.
"I just thought I guess I have to go back and do it again," Blower said after those chances fell a part.
Blower didn't get back into the end zone until there was 35 seconds left in the half and the Rebels down 14-0. Crestview's Dylan Douglass recovered a fumble on the Hornets' 28 with 19 seconds left, but there was not enough time to steal an extra touchdown going into the half.
"If we could have capitalized on that it would have been a whole different game," Blower said.
Blower was the Rebels' lone consistent offensive threat as he rushed for 102 yards on 19 carries, going over the 2,000-yard rushing mark for the season in the process. In the second half, he was limited to 10 rushing yards as the Hornets chewed clock.
"Kirtland is just a good football team," Crestview senior Dimitri Gregory said. "They're straight power football and strong up front. Their backs were hard runners and they were really quick guys. There's no doubt they're winning state this year."
Damon Washington rushed the ball 11 times for 121 yards to lead the Hornet attack. The senior, who is drawing attention from Mid-American Conference schools, was playing with an injured shoulder and was limited at times - especially in the second half.
"The feeling at halftime was 'Let's go, let's pick it up on defense and have a stop here,'" Gregory said. "We didn't come out and execute. We didn't come out and use our speed. We had too many people worried about the last play. We can't have that."
The Hornets' started the second half with a 12-play, 67-yard drive which ended in a Adam Hess 5-yard touchdown run with 6:48 left in the third. Crestview got the ball back and went four and out before the Hornets mounted a 12-play, 39-yard drive which resulted in a 33-yard missed field goal at the 9:24 mark of the fourth quarter.
Gilbert, who was 0 for 12 passing in the first half, threw an interception after the missed field goal and Sam Kukura cashed it in with a 25-yard touchdown run to make it 28-7 with 7:55 left in the game. Gilbert threw another interception before completing his first pass to Gregory on the last drive of the game. He capped the scoring with an 8-yard strike to Matt Hardenbrook with 16 seconds left in the game to make it 28-14.
"Our defense played a little bit better this week, but their line was still very good," Gregory said. "They were tough up front and getting too much push on our defensive line."
Crestview wasn't too stunned regarding the result following the game and thought it was another important lesson on what needs to be done to get to the next level.
"In coaches meetings at the beginning of the season we were hoping for 8-2, 7-3," Cusick said. "Our guys worked extremely hard and grew up fast. Hopefully we can take the next step. We have to have a great offseason."
Defense wins championships - just ask Kirtland.
The Rebels are 22-3 the past two seasons with two losses coming to Kirtland. The Rebels averaged 49.5 points in the 23 other games, but only 10.5 points in the two games against Kirtland.
K-(Damon Washington 54 run Kyle Adams kick)
K-Adam Hess 4 run (Kyle Adams kick)
C -Nick Blower 12 run (Caleb McGath kick)
K-Adam Hess 5 run (Kyle Adams kick)
K-Sam Kukura 25 run (Kyle Adams kick)
C-Matt Hardenbrook 8 pass from Collin Gilbert (Caleb McGath kick)
First downs 1121
Total Yards 214360
RUSHING-Crestview, Nick Blower 19-102, Collin Gilbert 12-60, Matt Hardenbrook 5-13; Kirtland, Damon Washington 11-121, Scott Eilgerman 11-68, Adam Hess 18-67, Sam Kukura 4-52.
PASSING-Crestview, Collin Gilbert 2-17-39-2; Kirtland, Scott Eilerman 4-9-19-0.
RECEIVING-Crestview, Dimitri Gregory 1-31, Matt Hardenbrook 1-8; Kirtland, Sam Kukura 2-7, Damon Washington 1-10, Anthony Veneri 1-2.
INTERCEPTIONS-Kirtland, Sam Kuura, Anthony Veneri.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES-Crestview, Kaleb Baker, Dylan Douglass.