AKRON-As he walked off John Cistone Field to join his victorious teammates, Crestview offensive tackle Clint Linhart exclaimed "That's how you play football!"
It certainly was.
Despite three turnovers and 380 all-purpose yards from Gates Mills Gilmour Academy running back Rodell Golphin, the Rebels came through with critical plays when they had to have them, emerging with a gritty 27-26 win over the Lancers in Division V regional semifinal action Saturday at Akron St. Vincent St. Mary High School.
The Rebels (11-1) will take on Akron Manchester in the Region 15 championship game next Saturday at a site to be determined.
"It wasn't pretty," Crestview senior quarterback Collin Gilbert said. "We had a number of miscues on offense, but all around our team played with a lot of heart the whole game. It was a great effort by everyone."
"I'm so proud of how we overcame our mistakes tonight," Crestview coach Paul Cusick said. "We missed a lot of big plays that we normally make, but we were still able to fight through it and come out with a win."
The Rebels jumped out to an early 13-0 lead, but a fumble, an interception and the team speed of Gilmour were enough to pull the Lancers into a 20-20 tie at halftime. Gilbert carried the Rebels offensively with 235 rushing yards on 33 carries and two touchdowns. Through the air, he completed 9-of-18 passes for 187 yards to go with one touchdown and one interception. All of it came while also playing the majority of the night at defensive back.
"I told him you have to suck it up," Cusick said. "I told you only have a handful of games left in your career and we have to keep it going. He really battled out there."
Gilbert's- and the team's-biggest play came midway through the third quarter. Gilmour quarterback Matt Botek had taken in a 1-yard touchdown to give the Lancers a 26-20 lead.
The extra point was blocked, but the Rebels found themselves trailing for the first time all night and for the first time since falling to South Range in the season's fourth game. It wouldn't last long.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Gilbert kept the ball on an option run, found a hole on the left side and jetted 69 yards for a touchdown. Caleb McGath's extra point put the Rebels ahead to stay. The touchdown was a play the coaching staff had drawn up at halftime.
"We hadn't run that particular play out of that formation in five or six years," Cusick said. "We saw some things we thought we could exploit and decided to try it. Collin made a great read and the line executed."
"We thought we could tweak some things and run some plays out of different formations in the second half." Gilbert said. "Coach drew it up at halftime and made a great play call."
Over six minutes remained in the third quarter. The scoring was finished for the evening, but the action was far from over.
Bouyed by Gilbert's run, the Rebel defense rose to the occasion and played their best stretch of football all season, forcing the potent Lancers into two straight three and outs, while the Rebel offense slowly tried to burn the clock.
Halfway through the fourth quarter, the Rebels looked to be on the verge of opening up some breathing room before a miscommunication between Gilbert and running back Trevor Cope resulted in a fumble at the Gilmour 6.
For most of the game, the game Golphin had gashed the Rebels, finishing with 242 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 17 attempts, to go with a 92-yard kickoff return which tied the score at 20 right before halftime. All season long, Cusick had talked of his defense's steady improvement. Now, with the season on the line, they would show that he had been right.
Moments after converting a fourth down and 4, the Lancers faced a fourth and 6 at the Crestview 34. Botek appeared to have connected with Golphin well past the first down marker, but senior linebacker Andrew Simmons came from behind with a clean, hard hit, forcing the incompletion.
"I saw the ball in the air and broke on it," Simmons said. "I was fortunate that it fell incomplete. It was definitely a game-changing play. The defense as a whole was shaky in the first half, but after halftime we really got it done."
The Rebels killed the final five minutes on the ground. Gilbert clinched it with a first-down run on third and 9, sliding before he could be forced out of bounds.
"I told Collin that under no circumstances was he to run out of bounds," Cusick said. "And he slid in there perfectly."
The Rebels are will now prepare for their second trip to the regional championship game in school history and second in three years.
"I played on that team as a receiver and it feels great to be going back," Gilbert said. "Coach Cusick has been here a long time and has a lot of wins. We want to get three more for him."
C - Collin Gilbert 30 run (kick failed)
C - Jake Ward 33 pass from Collin Gilbert (Caleb McGath kick)
GA - Rodell Golphin 65 run (Connor Lesko kick)
GA - Ryan Conry 13 pass from Matt Botek (kick failed)
C - Trevor Cope 6 run (Caleb McGath kick)
GA - Rodell Golphin 92 kickoff return (Connor Lesko kick)
GA - Matt Botek 1 run (kick failed)
C -Collin Gilbert 69 run (Caleb McGath kick)
First downs 1724
Total Yards 398495
RUSHING-Gilmour Academy, Rodell Golphin 17-242, Jonathan Abrams 5-15, Matt Botek 6-13; Crestview, Collin Gilbert 32-231, Trevor Cope 17-62, Josh McDade 3-9, Jake Ferris 3-5.
PASSING-Gilmour Academy, Matt Botek 9-20-113-0; Crestview, Collin Gilbert 9-20-188-1.
RECEIVING-Gilmour Academy, Frank Grk 3-37, Ryan Conry 3-29, Rodell Golphin 1-34 ; Crestview, Josh McDade 6-123, Jake Ward 2-43, Trevor Cope 1-22.
INTERCEPTIONS- Gilmour Academy, Dominic DiPuccio.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES-Gilmour Academy, Ishmael Hargrove, Frank Grk; Crestview, John Davis, Zach Hicks.