By Tom Williams
In small communities, it’s hard to imagine anything bigger than when the local high school football team is one of eight remaining in the state tournament.
“They are definitely very excited, there are all kinds of things planned, like a send-off, pep rallies,” Crestview head coach Paul Cusick said of the second-seeded Rebels’ Division V regional final game on Saturday in Minerva against top-seeded Akron Manchester (10-2). “I know the community is very excited and they should be.
“It’s [created] a buzz and [it’s] the talk around town,” Cusick said of the Rebels’ second regional final in three seasons. “In this community, the school is the central hub for everything.
“So when teams are doing well from your school, it really attracts a lot of community [support].”
The Rebels (11-1) have advanced to round three with wins over Liberty (35-26) and Gilmour Academy (27-26).
“It was a great feeling — any time you win a close game like that against a good team,” quarterback Collin Gilbert said of last week’s win. “It feels great, especially because they had a lot of chances to win. We made some mistakes.”
Senior tight end Josh McDade said his teammates are motivated to earn a state appearance for their veteran coach.
“He’s never been past [the regional], Crestview has never been past [the regional],” said McDade, who converted from left tackle to tight end this season and led the Inter Tri-County League Tier One in receiving. “It would mean a lot to win. Getting past the regional final would be a great feeling for everybody.”
“We want to do it for Coach ‘Cue’ because he’s been the head of this program. [For him, we want to] get over the hump of the regional final and make a run at state,” he said.
McDade can’t wait for the kickoff.
“It gives me goosebumps, even in [midweek] just thinking about the regional final,” McDade said. “A chance to win is exciting.”
Gilbert is the engine driving the Rebels’ potent offense. The senior rushed for 230 yards and passed for 189 yards against Gilmour Academy.
The big play came after the Lancers went ahead 26-20. Cusick dipped into his bag of tricks and pulled out a play (speed option off jet motion) that Crestview hadn’t used in five seasons.
Gilbert raced 69 yards to tie the game. Caleb McGath’s extra-point game was the margin of difference.
Now, the Rebels are preparing for what would be the biggest win in school history.
“It is exhausting, but it’s fun,” Cusick said. “It makes for a long season, but it’s definitely worthwhile.”
Cusick said his staff has to resist excessiveness.
“You have to get quality practices in, but you also have to manage bodies and health,” Cusick said. “You don’t want the kids to be beat up and tired.”
Most of the Rebels’ games this season were blowouts. Stealing a nail-biter was a twist.
Cusick’s initial reaction “was to sigh and take a deep breath and say ‘Wwoooo.’ ”
The close call has provided teaching moments.
“Early in the season, we might not have won a game like that,” Cusick said. “We have grown as a team and that was a game when [the veterans] had to come through.
“We weren’t making the big play like we normally do, we kind of had to grind it out. We left some big plays out on the field.
“Eventually, we were able to play some good defense and win in a little bit of a different way.”