LIMA — Convoy Crestview’s explosive offense racked up points throughout the season, and Fort Loramie coach Spencer Wells thought it was a certainty the team would score a few more in a Division VII regional final on Saturday at Lima Spartan Stadium.
The mantra Wells repeated time after time in practice to Fort Loramie’s players in preparation for Crestview’s offense was, “Win the next play.”
The Redskins gave up several of big plays early in Saturday’s matchup, but once the second quarter began, they were able to win the next play… and the next play… and the next play.
As the game wore on, there was no winning the next play. The Redskins were winning every play and did so until they hoisted the first regional trophy in program history.
Fort Loramie outscored the Knights by four touchdowns in the second half to run away to a 48-20 victory, which captured the Div. VII, Region 28 championship. The Redskins (12-1) advance to face McComb in a Div. VII state semifinal next Saturday at Wapakoneta’s Harmon Field.
“The great thing is now you hear the guys on the sideline saying, ‘Win the next play, win the next play,’” Wells, a first-year coach, said. “I just told them I loved them. They’ve bought in from the get-go. I feel honored to be their coach. Let’s keep it rolling.”
It’s the first state semifinal berth in program history for Fort Loramie. The Redskins had advanced to a regional final only once before Saturday’s appearance.
“This is crazy, but we’ve got to keep going,” senior tight end/defensive end CJ Billing said. “Never stop I guess. It feels great — I don’t even know what I’m feeling right now. It feels awesome.”
The teams were tied 14-14 at halftime. Crestview had 206 yards in the first half compared to Fort Loramie’s 132 and drove deep into the Redskins territory several times, but three turnovers on downs in the first 13 minutes hampered its offense.
“Our defense tonight was relentless,” senior running back/defensive back Carter Mescher said. “It’s incredible. These guys played their butts off tonight. It showed out there. …Our defensive line was playing a great game tonight.”
Part of Fort Loramie’s defensive success was due to neutralizing Crestview senior receiver Wade Sheets. Sheets has drawn Div. I collegiate interest but was held to two catches for 17 yards and ran once for -1 yards. His lone big play of the night was a 25-yard kickoff return in the first quarter.
“We had a game plan for it, and our kids executed it,” Wells said. “A lot of times when he was single receiver, he was always double covered. Our guys did a great job with it. That was no easy task. He’s a great player. But especially in the second half, we were making him earn it. We didn’t give up that big play, and that was fun to watch.”
The Redskins were able to capitalize on three turnovers in the second half and scored three consecutive touchdowns to build a big lead. They started to pull away thanks to a big play by Mescher, who returned the opening kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown to give Fort Loramie a 21-14 lead.
“Making big plays is always something,” Mescher said. “It’s really exciting when you see a hole and you think you’re gone but you don’t know, and you just hear the stands and sidelines just roaring. It’s awesome. It’s unbelievable.”
Mescher finished with 83 rushing yards on three carries and had 107 yards on two kick returns.
He was far from the only person who made big plays for Fort Loramie, which finished with 304 yards of offense. Sophomore quarterback Collin Moore ran for 124 yards and four touchdowns and completed 5-of-12 passes for 36 yards and one touchdown.
Moore had 25 rushing yards in the first half, but he found success running through the line and to the sides in the second half.
“There were really adjusting to one of our formations, so we decided to run it with Collin,” Wells said. “He did a great job. He’s run it well for us all year, but it was just something that we saw during the game, and we rolled with it.”
Devin Wehrman ran 11 times for 61 yards and had an interception. Billing recovered a fumble, and Brandewie and Wehrman had interceptions.
“We can rely on 11, 20 or about 30 guys on our team,” Mescher said. “We can rely on a lot of guys that can play one way, two ways or maybe play special teams. These guys, we just fight so hard, and it shows.”
It’s a remarkable win for the program, which finished 8-3 last year and lost 40-24 in Minster in a playoff opener. Billing, Mescher and senior lineman Collin Detrick credited Wells for helping to lead the team’s improvement.
“It’s so cool for what we’ve done in just a year with a brand-new coach,” Detrick said. “It’s awesome. …He made it easy for us (to learn new schemes). We were able to adapt very well, and I think we’ve done a good job with what he’s taught us.”
Fort Loramie lost to Minster by 20 points in Week 1 but hasn’t lost since. Billing said the early loss motivated the team through the rest of the season.
“People were doubting us, counting us out,” Billing said. “We were always the underdogs, and we love that. We’ll be the underdogs every single game, and we’ll come to fight every single game. We’re ready. …It made a statement tonight. Coach Wells is for real.”
Crestview (11-2) turned the ball over on downs at the Redskins’ 42-yard line early in the third after Mescher’s kickoff return TD. The Redskins quickly drove into Crestview territory and Moore scored on a 21-yard run with 7:17 left to boost the lead to 28-14 lead.
The Knights were forced to punt on the next drive, and Moore quickly found the end zone again. Moore took a snap and ran right, then raced upfield along the visitor’s sideline for a 54-yard touchdown with 5:22 left in the third. Beltran Lafarga missed the extra point, but Fort Loramie took a 34-14 lead.
Crestview responded with a 16-play, 75-yard drive and scored on an 8-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Drew Kline to Derick Dealey. A two-point conversion try was no good, but the Knights cut the Redskins’ lead to 14 points with 1:20 left.
Fort Loramie went three-and-out on its next drive and pinned Crestview back on its own 2 on the punt. Sheets fumbled at the 18 a few plays later, and Fort Loramie recovered.
The Redskins scored a couple of plays later when Moore ran up the middle four yards for a touchdown to boost the lead to 41-20 with 8:57 left in the fourth.
Brandewie intercepted a pass from Kline near midfield to end Crestview’s next drive and returned it to the 10. Moore threw a 1-yard touchdown to Brandon Barhorst shortly after to give Fort Loramie a 28-point lead with 5:49 left in the fourth.
Wehrman intercepted a pass from Kline a couple of minutes later, which enabled the Redskins to run out the clock.
After a decent kickoff return and two first-down plays, Crestview turned the ball over on downs on the first drive of the game at Fort Loramie’s 28. Sheets intercepted a pass by Moore and returned it to the 35, but Crestview again turned the ball over on downs.
After the Redskins got a first down on a penalty, they punted to midfield. The Knights moved the ball to Fort Loramie’s 7 on a 28-yard pass from Kline to Dealy, but they lost two yards over the next four plays and turned the ball over on downs early in the second quarter.
The Redskins went three-and-out and punted from their own end zone, and Crestview got the ball at the 28. After a short run, Kline ran up the middle, danced around defenders and scored on a 22-yard run with 6:55 left in the second. He then completed a pass on a two-point conversion try to give the Knights an 8-0 lead.
Fort Loramie quickly responded. After a decent kickoff return by Mescher, he ran right around the line on a jet sweep and sprinted 60 yards for a touchdown with 5:50 left. Lafarga kicked the extra point to bring the Redskins within 8-7.
After Crestview had a long touchdown pass called back due to a holding penalty, Billing recovered a fumbled snap at the 13. Moore ran up the middle 7 yards for a touchdown two plays later to give Fort Loramie a six-point lead with 3:28 left.
The Knights tied it up before halftime. Kline ran 80 yards to move the ball to Fort Loramie’s 10, then Dealey dove 3 yards for a touchdown several plays later. Crestview missed a two-point conversion try, and it remained tied 14-14 with 55 seconds left in the second quarter.
Lafarga missed a 32-yard field goal attempt before halftime, but Wells was still optimistic with a tie score.
“We talked at halftime that we took their best punch in the first half, and we hadn’t thrown ours yet,” Wells said. “From the get-go, with (Mescher’s) opening kickoff, we threw our best punch, and that’s a credit to our kids.”
The Redskins will give their best punch for a spot in the D-VII state championship game next Saturday against McComb (12-1). The Panthers beat Edgerton 33-18 in the Region 26 final on Saturday to advance.
“We’ve just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing and play our hearts out and leave it all on the field,” Detrick said.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.