Columbian coach Brian Colatruglio called Columbian's regular-season finale something of a microcosm of his team's season.
Facing a 5-4 Ontario team, the Tornadoes found themselves trailing in the third quarter, and in a one-possession game halfway through the fourth.
But Columbian used three fourth quarter touchdowns - two set up by interceptions - to pull away, winning 41-18.
Columbian’s Ryan Lynch pushes away from an Ontario defender during Friday’s game at?Frost-Kalnow Stadium.
With the victory, the Tornadoes finished 9-1 and clinched the outright Northern Ohio League title for the second-consecutive year. They also clinched a home playoff game next Friday. The Tornadoes won't know who it will be against until tomorrow night. TC will be going for its 10th-straight win next week.
"This group of kids right here, they've been through a lot," Colatruglio said. "We've had a lot of stuff thrown at us from all the way back in July, and we've taken whatever's been thrown at us and fought through it."
As usual, Ryan Lynch was a huge part of the win. The running back shrugged off three fumbles to run for 290 yards and three touchdowns. Overall, the Tornadoes ran for 398 yards behind a strong performance from the line.
"With the offensive line, we all worked hard and put in work," TC lineman Isiah Moore said. "We just go out and move people."
The Tornadoes jumped ahead of the Warriors on the first drive of the game. Russ Yeast took an end around over the left side and ran 23 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Ontario came right back.
On fourth-and-11 from TC's 38, Ontario QB Tyler Boatwright lofted a perfect pass to receiver Cameron Mack. Mack, a senior listed at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, grabbed the ball and ran to the end zone. Ontario missed the two point conversion and trailed 7-6.
Mack was the majority of the Warriors offense Friday night. He caught 10 passes (Boatwright completed 12 in the game) for 122 yards.
Things got better for Ontario in the second quarter. Columbian drove the ball to the Warrior 5, but quarterback Donovan Walker was intercepted by Eddrick Deloach-Holley, who returned the ball to the TC 21.
Two plays later, Matt Eichelberger ran in a touchdown from 2 yards out. Again, Ontario missed on a two-point conversion attempt, but it led, 12-7, with 5:25 left in the half.
"We have not been outplayed by anybody in the NOL," said Ontario coach Kreger, whose team wrapped its first season in the league. "I attribute that to our kids and our kids' heart. Our theme this year was to play for respect."
It looked like the Warriors might get even more than that after recovering the ensuing kickoff. But after driving to the Columbian 25, Eichelberger fumbled and Columbian recovered.
After a pair of personal fouls after the play pushed Columbian back to the 5, Lynch took over, running five times on the 10-play drive for 45 yards. His final rush, a 5-yard jaunt, put the Tornadoes up, 14-12 going to the half.
Ontario put one last scare into Columbian in the third quarter, when Mack picked up a punt and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown and an 18-14 lead.
"Cameron's a phenomenal athlete," Kreger said. "And he's got the ability to dominate a game."
Columbian made sure the lead didn't last long. Lynch's 12-yard TD run gave the Tornadoes a 20-18 edge after three quarters.
In the fourth, Lynch took a carry 32 yards to the Ontario 1, only to fumble it just before the goal line. TC lineman Nevin Lantz pounced on it, and TC went up 27-18.
The Tornadoes scored twice more. A Walker interception of Boatwright was returned to the Ontario 27, setting up another Lynch touchdown. On Ontario's next possession, senior Andy Schwartz picked off Boatwright and took it back 78 yards for the final score.
Colatruglio said he was thrilled for Schwartz.
"He's a senior, he's worked his butt off," Colatruglio said. "He probably hasn't gotten to play as much as he has hoped. He deserved that [pick 6]. It's great to see a kid that hangs with the program, accepts his role as a special teams player and then makes a big play when he gets a chance."
Schwartz felt the same way.
"I obviously don't get in in defense too much, just at the end of games," Schwartz said. "So to get that, it was pretty great."
Meanwhile, TC's defense was stout in the second half, not allowing the Ontario offense any points. Key to that was the play of senior Codey Chance, who had two sacks and four tackles for loss.
"He was the man tonight, he did a great job of controlling the inside," Colatruglio said of the lineman. "It allows us to drop eight and be able to play three down against a team that can throw, because he can control the inside so well."
Chance said the defense has become more than a group of players.
"Our defense is strong, family-wise," the senior said. "I spend more time with the defense than my own family. And it's just that bond we have that drives us to do our best every game."
And they know they'll be back here next week, with a chance to do it one more time.