By Tom Williams
In a game loaded with long runs and huge returns, Crestview senior linebacker Matt Hardenbrook made the biggest play of all.
And he didn’t gain an inch.
In Crestview’s 51-50 victory over St. Thomas Aquinas on Saturday, Hardenbrook intercepted Knights quarterback Anthony Moeglin’s final pass, a conversion attempt with 1:42 remaining.
“I thought my heart was going to burst,” said Hardenbrook, adding that eyes got “real big” as the ball approached him. “I’ve been waiting for my chance to prove myself.
“This is amazing — last game at home, it feels so good,” said Hardenbrook of the Rebels’ first scare since a 37-33 win over Columbiana in Week One. “I couldn’t have asked for a better game.”
The Rebels (11-0), the fourth seed in Division V Region 17, survive to play defending state champion Kirtland (11-0) next Saturday. The site will be announced this afternoon.
Crestview hung on despite being outscored 36-27 in the second half as both defenses disappeared like non-political ads on the radio and television. Tied 44-44 with 7:05 remaining, Hardenbrook scored the Rebels’ final touchdown on a 40-yard run.
“I’ve never been so tired,” Hardenbrook said. “Josh McDade and Kris Simpson made perfect blocks. I was so tired but I just kept running.”
The Knights (9-2) weren’t finished as Josiah Moore escaped the Rebels for a 60-yard touchdown to make it 51-50. Sensing momentum, St. Thomas head coach Tim Budd kept his offense on the field for the conversion attempt that decided the game.
“Our defense made a play when they needed to,” Crestview head coach Paul Cusick said. “We gave up some big plays, but Matt stepped up. We put a little bit of pressure on their quarterback.”
Crestview rushed 61 times for 382 yards. Quarterback Collin Gilbert led with 27 carries for 157 yards. Hardenbrook gained 121 yards on 15 carries and Nick Blower ran 19 times for 104 yards.
Gilbert scored the first two touchdowns on runs of 32 and 31 yards. Caleb McGath’s 29-yard field goal made it 17-0 in the second quarter and it appeared the Rebels were going to romp.
The Knights had other ideas. Moore’s first touchdown came on an 89-yard return. Also in the second quarter, Bryan Wilkins scored a 56-yard touchdown run to slice Crestview’s lead to 24-14.
The third-quarter fireworks included Moore’s 76 yard touchdown run and a 53-yard score by Wilkins.
Dimitri Gregory set up the Rebels’ other fourth-quarter touchdown with a 78-yard kickoff return to the Aquinas 6.
“I saw the hole and took advantage of it,” Gregory said. “I know I’m slow and everything and I got caught. Of course, I thought I was going to score [but] I’m not the fastest guy on the field.”
Gregory, a linebacker, agreed that surrendering 50 points is “a good wake-up call. Not [having ]30 points scored on you all season, that’s a little bit of a wake-up call.”