By Tom Williams
The Crestview High football team kicked-started the postseason with two return touchdowns, then hung on in a wild fourth quarter for a 35-26 victory over Liberty on Saturday night.
“That makes you feel good, that maybe things are going your way,” Crestview coach Paul Cusick said of Josh McDade’s 19-yard fumble return and Jake Ferris’ 74-yard kickoff return. “When those things happen, it’s a bonus.”
The Division V, Region 19 playoff opener was a rematch of a Week 3 game won by the Rebels (10-1), 34-26. This game followed a similar script — a huge Crestview lead followed by Liberty’s fourth-quarter comeback attempt.
“We just got beat by a better team,” Liberty coach Kevin Cylar said. “[Quarterback Collin Gilbert] is very tough to bring down and [McDade] has great hands.”
On the opening drive, Crestview was stopped at the Liberty 20. On the next play, Leopards running back Brandon Rios was slammed hard and stripped of the ball. McDade picked up the fumble and raced 19 yards for the lead. No one was more surprised than the Rebels’ defensive end.
“I was expecting [safety] Spencer DeSalvo to land on it, but the ball kind of squirted out,” McDade said. “The ball was right in front of me so I picked it up and ran.”
The Leopards (7-4) responded with a nine-play, 80-yard drive capped by Lynn Bowden’s 10-yard touchdown run.
That was as close as the Leopards would get as Jake Ferris returned the kickoff 74 yards for a 14-6 lead.
“Trevor Cope laid a huge block on somebody and that just opened up a huge seam for me to run through,” said Ferris, who also scored a second-quarter touchdown on a 5-yard run. “This is huge — we love to advance in the playoffs.”
Gilbert, who rushed for 102 yards, said the returns “meant a lot because our offense was slow in starting. Those big plays built the momentum for us to get going.”
Gilbert’s 14-yard touchdown gave the Rebels a 28-6 advantage at halftime.
In the fourth quarter, things became interesting after Bowden — a freshman running back — ran for a 66-yard touchdown.
Liberty tried an onside kick and J’Aundray Ranalli almost recovered Brendan Gilmartin’s attempt. But he touched the ball one yard before it traveled 10 yards.
On the next play, Gilbert hit McDade on the fly for a 50-yard touchdown and 35-12 lead with eight minutes to go.
The Leopards didn’t quit.
After Asim Pleas caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from Bowden, Keelan Davis recovered Gilmartin’s onside kick at the Crestview 42. Seven plays later, Bowden scored from the 1 to slice the Rebels’ lead to nine.
“Same thing happened in Week 3,” Gilbert said. “They are a great team with great athletes.”
On their final possession, the Leopards drove inside the Crestview 20 when time expired.
Bowden finished with 217 yards on 29 carries and Pleas had 168 on 20.
“We did a good job of tackling for about three quarters,” Cusick said. “Then we started missing tackles and let their players make plays.
“It got a little shaky there at the end but we made the plays when we needed to.”