The Western Reserve Roughriders took a huge step toward a Firelands Conference title and home playoff berth with a 42-34 win over Ashland Crestview on Friday night at Scott Bailey Memorial Field.
The victory propelled the Riders to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the FC.
Western Reserve finishes with a home contest against New London and a road matchup with Mapleton, both games in which the Riders will be heavily favored.
The Riders can thank senior Darren Johnson for providing a big spark Friday night as the 6-foot-3 wideout returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
Western coach Mike Stoll was fired up about the win.
“We’re grateful he’s on our team,” Stoll said about Johnson. “Those two run-backs were big.
“We knew this was going to be a battle,” the coach added. “Crestview is a big, physical football team that was one of the favorites in the league this year. This is big, especially to win down here.”
The Riders broke on top early on Willie Roth’s 4-yard touchdown run. That scoring play was set up by Blake Buckhannon’s 79-yard run.
Buckhannon finished the evening with 149 yards on 20 attempts, with two TDs.
The Cougars marched right back to tie it at 7-7 on junior Garrick Montgomery’s 9-yard TD run.
Crestview then took the lead with 10 seconds left in the opening quarter on Montgomery’s 6-yard run.
That’s when Johnson stole the momentum right back with an 82-yard kickoff return. The Josh Good point after tied the game at 14-14 after one.
The only second quarter scoring was Buckhannon’s 2-yard plunge with 41 seconds to go in the half, vaulting the visitors to a 21-14 halftime lead.
The Riders extended that to 27-14 in the third on Roth’s 6-yard touchdown.
The Cougars bounced back though less than a minute later when QB Matt Hall hooked up with senior Conor Plemens on a 26-yard TD pass. The extra point cut the Cougar deficit to 27-21.
Crestview took the lead with 7:52 left in the game when Hall and Joe Whisler connected on a 10-yard TD pass, lifting the Cougars to a 28-27 advantage.
Johnson would have none of that, though, as he returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for a TD. Roth ran in the 2-point conversion, good for a 35-28 Rider lead.
On the next drive, the Cougars appeared to have converted a fourth-and-one in Rider territory, but Montgomery was held up on the play, the whistle never blew and he fumbled the ball and Western recovered.
The Riders capitalized with 3:15 to go in the game on Buckhannon’s 2-yard run.
The Cougars completed the scoring on a perfectly executed hook-and-ladder play that covered 33 yards. Hall hit Plemens in the flat, who then pitched to Mason Minnich who took it the distance.
Crestview attempted an onside kick, but Western recovered and ran out the clock.
“We sort of got on the O-line at halftime,” Stoll said. “We really put it on the offensive line and they played well in the second half.”
Stoll refuses to look ahead.
“Still two to go,” he said.
Crestview had two backs, Minnich and Montgomery, rush for more than 100 yards.
Minnich had 133 yards on 24 tries, while Montgomery added 108 yards on 18 attempts with two TDs.
Hall was 10-of-16 passing for 189 yards with three TDs and one interception.
For Western, Kyle Pressley hit on 5-of-9 passes for 93 yards.
Crestview coach Chad Coffman knew the Cougars left some opportunities on the field.
“Our kids played incredibly hard,” he said. “Western is a very good football team.”
The game plan was not to kick the ball to Johnson.
“We tried not to kick it to him,” he said. “But they are smart and well-schemed and he’s a great player.”
The Cougars played without leading tackler and linebacker Nick Hall, who hurt his knee last week against South Central.
“But that’s life, that’s football,” Coffman said. “I’m proud of the way we competed.”
The Cougars dropped to 4-4 and 2-3.
Score by quarters
Western 14 7 6 15 — 42
Crestview 14 0 7 13 — 34
WR — Roth 4 run (Good kick)
AC — Montgomery 9 run (Graybeal kick)
AC — Montgomery 6 run (Graybeal kick)
WR — Johnson 82 kick return (Good kick)
WR — Buckhannon 2 run (Good kick)
WR — Roth 6 run (kick blocked)
AC — Hall-Plemens 26 pass (Graybeal kick)
AC — Hall-Whisler 10 pass (Graybeal kick)
WR — Johnson 75 kick return (Roth run)
WR — Buckhannon 2 run (Good kick)
AC — Hall-Plemens-Minnich 33 hook-ladder (kick failed)