COLUMBIANA -Friday was Crestview quarterback Collin Gilbert's 18th birthday and he picked the perfect way to celebrate.
After rushing for nearly 500 yards the last two weeks, the senior took to the air against rival Columbiana, completing 16-of-24 passes for a season-high 239 yards and three touchdowns as the Rebels jumped out of the gate with four quick touchdowns and defeated the Clippers 49-21.
"That's the best birthday present I could have asked for," Gilbert said. "We played well as a team and beat Columbiana. That's as good as it gets."
The Rebels notched their fifth straight win and improve to 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the Inter-Tri County League upper tier. Columbiana falls to 3-6 overall and 3-3 in the ITCL.
Despite the win, a conference-opening loss to undefeated South Range looks as if it will cost Crestview a share of a sixth straight league title. The Rebels trail South Range by one game, with the Raiders heavy favorites next week versus Lisbon. For now though, with another trip to the playoffs on tap in two weeks, coach Paul Cusick's team was savoring the moment.
"Playing at Crestview, one of the top things you look forward to every year is playing Columbiana," junior wide receiver Evan Beachler said. "To beat them is a terrific feeling. Everybody stepped up tonight."
With the Columbiana defense crowding the line of scrimmage, Gilbert and the offense made numerous big plays through the air. Aided by good field position, the Rebels scored on their first four drives to build a 28-7 lead early in the second quarter. The flurry was highlighted by a 32-yard touchdown pass from Gilbert to tight end Josh McDade to make it 14-0. McDade finished with his usual strong output, finishing with six catches for 111 yards and a touchdown, while Beachler turned in his best game of the season with five receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown.
"It's taken a little while for me and Collin to both get on the same page in the passing game," Beachler said. "Tonight everything was working for us and we were in sync the whole night."
Gilbert credited increased work in practice for Friday's performance.
"We knew Columbiana's line was good and that they would be looking to load up on the run game," Gilbert said. "We've been improving the passing game all year but this week we gave it extra attention and the increased reps really helped us tonight."
Gilbert wasn't the only one airing it out. Columbiana freshman quarterback Mitch Davidson made his share of big plays against the Crestview defense, completing 17-of-32 passes for a career-high 293 yards and three touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Dalton Miller finished with seven receptions for 165 yards and three touchdowns. The duo helped keep the Clippers within striking distance in the first half, hooking up on scoring strikes of 25 and 48 yards respectively.
"Mitch played real well," Columbiana coach Bob Spaite said. "You never know who thing are going to turn out as the years unfold, but we were very pleased with him tonight."
Leading 28-14 late in the second quarter, Crestview took control. The Clipper defense had found its footing-forcing a pair of three and outs-but Gilbert and McDade converted a 3rd-and-20 from midfield and two plays later Gilbert found Beachler for a 20-yard touchdown pass. Davidson threatened to match the score, but was intercepted by Cody Mackall at the Crestview 31 with a minute left in the half. The Rebels were not threatened the rest of the night.
"We played really well in spurts tonight," Cusick said. "Offensively we have made huge progress in the passing game and we moved the ball really well, and on defense we gave up a couple of big plays but overall were pretty sound."
The Rebels will try and secure a home playoff game next week when they host East Palestine. Columbiana will attempt to finish with a winning conference record when the Clippers host United.
CR -Collin Gilbert 2 rush (Caleb McGath kick)
CR-Josh McDade 32 pass from Gilbert (McGath kick)
CO -Dalton Miller 38 pass from Mitch Davidson (Nathan Garofalo kick)
CR-Josh McDade 5 rush (McGath kick)
CO-Dalton Miller 48 pass from Davidson (Garofalo kick)
CR-Evan Beachler 20 pass from Gilbert (McGath kick)
CR-Jake Ward 21 pass from Gilbert (McGath kick)
CO-Dalton Miller 37 pass from Davidson (Garofalo kick)
CR-Zack Hicks 1 run (McGath kick)
First downs 2615
Total Yards 392401
RUSHING-Crestview, Collin Gilbert 11-57, Trevor Cope 14-43, Josh McDade 4-25; Columbiana, Mitch Davidson 11-42, Chris Durk 3-17
PASSING-Crestview, Collin Gilbert 16-24-239-0 ; Columbiana, Mitch Davidson 17-32-293-1, Dalton Miller 1-1-43-0
RECEIVING-Crestview, Josh McDade 6-112, Evan Beachler 5-80, Jake Ward 3-36; Columbiana, Dalton Miller 7-165, Sean Congemi 5-80.
INTERCEPTIONS- Crestview, Cody Mackall
FUMBLE RECOVERIES-Columbiana, Eamon Eavers