Columbian stops Norwalk in double overtime
As the ball rolled around on the turf, just one thought went through Ryan Lynch’s mind.
The Tornadoes needed to get a stop.
After Columbian scored a touchdown to pull ahead of Norwalk in the second overtime of the Division III regional quarterfinals, Derek Dryfuse’s extra point attempt was blocked, leaving the Tornadoes with a precarious 34-28 lead.
“Pretty much the only thing going through my head was ‘We have to stop them, like, have to.’ I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t win my last home game,” said Lynch, fighting back tears.
So when Norwalk marched down to the Columbian 3 during its offensive series, things were looking pretty bleak.
Then it snapped.
Norwalk saw a bad snap sail over quarterback Jordan Johnson’s head and roll around. As Johnson scooped it up and rolled to his sideline, he couldn’t escape the pursuit of Nate Hoyda, who closed on Johnson and tackled him on Columbian’s 30.
Like that, it went from second-and-goal from the doorstep to third-and-goal from the state line.
Two plays later, Columbian was celebrating an emotional victory over its Northern Ohio League foe.
“It was just a great high school football game. Two extremely talented football teams that both fought their guts out and I think the $7 admission, everybody that came tonight got their money’s worth,” Columbian coach Brian Colatruglio said.
The momentum swing of the second overtime was just a microcosm of the game’s many swings. From both teams scoring on its opening drives to both teams losing fumbles on back-to-back plays, if it were a grandfather clock, the pendulum would have had to been replaced.
“Our kids played an outstanding game. They played hard. It’s two quality football teams. It comes down to the last play and the momentum swings were unbelievable in it,” Norwalk coach Chris MacFarland said. “Somebody would have the lead and give it back. I’m just so proud of our kids and where we’ve come from and where we are now.”
It was the first trip to the postseason for Norwalk since 1974.
Like the first game, Lynch was the workhorse for Columbian, slicing the Truckers for 162 yards on 30 carries, including 120 in the first half.
“I’m not going to lie. I was with my buddies earlier and we watched Marshawn Lynch run against the Saints (in 2011). So that was kind of my motto tonight. He ate Skittles after every touchdown. We got some Skittles (after the game), which is ironic,” Lynch said.
Donovan Walker and Josh Flint made up for lost time with Norwalk. Walker didn’t play against Norwalk in week 4 due to a suspension and Flint was in his first game back when the Tornadoes (10-1) beat the Truckers (9-2).
Flint had just three catches for 108 yards, but two of them couldn’t have come at more critical junctures.
His first catch came on fourth-and-8 from the Norwalk 32 and saw Walker heave it in desperation as protection was collapsing toward Flint. The 6-0 receiver elevated over the two defenders blanketing him and came down with the ball at the 7. On the next play, Lynch scored his second touchdown of the game to give Columbian the 14-7 lead at halftime.
“He threw a jump ball pretty much and I jumped up and I was in the right place at the right time, I guess,” Flint said.
His next catch was even bigger. With the Tornadoes struggling mightily on offense and trailing the Truckers, 21-14, with less than six minutes to go in the game, Walker found a streaking Flint for a 71-yard touchdown strike and a tie ball game.
“The first Norwalk game was my first game back from suspension so I didn’t play much and I’ve been working hard in practice ever since then,” Flint said. “I knew this was an important game so I knew I had to step up. We know what we can do in the passing game. We just don’t always get to display it. I just did what I could do tonight.”
But Flint and many of his receiving counterparts dropped balls in the process as well, stalling out drives for the Tornadoes in the second half. Walker was just 5 of 17 in the second half passing.
“Drops are drops. There’s no excuses for them. For the younger guys, it’s harder for them to get over it,” Flint said. “I have to get over it myself and help them get over it.”
His coach said the hands team wasn’t really there Friday night.
“I don’t know what it was. We haven’t dropped that many balls this year, I don’t think. We had more drops than we’ve had this season. We’re struggling to run the ball (in the second half), and we have some really talented kids on the perimeter so we’re going to keep going to them,” Colatruglio said.
But Colatruglio stayed with the passing game and it paid dividends as Norwalk adjusted to stop Lynch.
“I thought we were going to have to throw the ball to win and we made some huge plays in the passing game and probably just missed a couple of others,” he said.
After Norwalk’s Grant Hull just missed a 44-yard field goal with 1:26 to go in regulation, Columbian drove 65 yards in 10 plays, utilizing the sideline to save every precious second. Dryfuse missed a 32-yard field with 24 seconds to go, leaving the game to be decided in overtime.
In the first overtime, each team needed just one play to score. Breck Turner busted a 20-yard run to score for Norwalk and Columbian answered with a 20-yard pass from Walker to a wide-open Lynch.
On third-and-2 from Norwalk 12 in the second overtime, Walker found Dryfuse on a fade route to the left corner for the score, only to the see extra point smothered.
“(I thought) I should have gone for two the first (overtime),” Colatruglio said of his thoughts after the blocked extra point. “That’s why we called the timeout (after the first OT touchdown), we were thinking, hard. The play we would have called was the play we scored the touchdown on in the second overtime. But I didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger.”
On Norwalk’s series, Johnson kept the game alive on a fourth-and-1 from the Columbian 11 with a 3-yard sneak to the left side. A run by Turner put it on the Columbian 3 before that fateful snap left Norwalk on the Columbian 30.
“(That ball) looked huge. Right when I saw it, that was the only thing I was looking for,” Hoyda said. “That tackle was amazing for me. That felt great. That fumble was the key thing. When that fumble happened, that quarterback was my first priority. I knew he was going to get the ball (and I had to stop him).”
Colatruglio said he was glad Hoyda came up with the tackle.
“It was our free safety that had a (27-yard) tackle for loss so I’m glad that he didn’t throw because I’m sure we weren’t covering anybody,” Colatruglio said.
MacFarland said it was an honest mistake by his center.
“It’s a young kid. He’s a sophomore and he’s going to be a great center for us. He’s been a great center for us,” he said. “As I tell the kids, there’s no one play that costs us a game. It’s a team effort and there’s a lot of plays in a game. Football is a game of who makes the fewest mistakes.”
Johnson got flushed from the pocket on third down and was stopped for a 1-yard gain. Johnson’s final pass of the night was thrown in the direction of a Norwalk receiver who was covered by three defenders who managed to swat the ball to the ground to clinch the victory.
“It was intense. It was scary at first in the first overtime and later in the game. I got scared for a little bit,” Walker said.
Colatruglio said the game and the second overtime in particular was his team’s season in a nutshell.
“It kind of sums our season up. We’re not always pretty and we’ve had a lot of things go against us and somehow our kids fight like crazy and find a way to win,” the Columbian mentor said.
The Tornadoes used a heavy blitzing scheme to try to slow down Turner and Johnson. Turner was held to 116 yards on 24 carries and Johnson had 59 yards rushing on 26 tries and 123 yards passing.
“We wanted to be aggressive, especially in the second half. Their quarterback is so talented, you can’t just let him run around,” Colatruglio said. “So we wanted to force the issue and we made some big plays doing it and we gave up some big plays doing it. But we needed to force the issue with him. If we just let him run around out there, he’s going to find open people.”
Columbian moves on to face Division II’s reigning state champion, Toledo Central Catholic, next Friday night. The Irish (11-0) defeated Defiance 69-14 to advance to the second round.
“It’s the best feeling the world right now. Week 12. TCC. It’s going to be a great game,” Hoyda said.