Evan Burig gets last say with 29 yard field goal
Loveland to State Div. II Final
by Willie Lutz
Loveland, Oh. – It is simply impossible to associate the word “quit” with the Loveland Tigers. Two weeks in a row, the Tigers appeared to be defeated. With the clock dwindling and the opposition preparing to bask in the sweet taste of glory, the Tigers reversed the course of history and advanced deeper into the playoffs; this time, the spot is much sweeter. Knocking off AP ranked #1 Zanesville, the #2 ranked Tigers won by a final score of 38-35 in double overtime. The team that was a portrait of mediocrity just a season ago, will now advance to their first ever state championship.
The Tigers traveled nearly two hours to get to St. Vincent DeSales High School just north of Columbus for Friday night’s contest. Even though their hometown of Loveland was chilly, it was unrivaled by the snow-laden ground of Columbus. When it comes to attendance, weather didn’t play a factor. The stadium, which holds 6,000 people in its stands, was overflowing with people. The Tigers even sent eight “spirit buses” filled with students and teachers to the game.
Drew Plitt once again started the game for the Tigers on a rough note. For the second time this postseason, the Loveland quarterback’s first pass of the game ended up an interception. This week, the opposition made it count.
The Blue Devils had by far the best offense the Tigers have seen this season, most of that offense comes from the right arm of their quarterback Thomas Wibbeler, who had thrown for over 4,000 yards and 47 touchdowns coming into the game. He showed his talent early when on the first touchdown of the game he hit wide receiver, JT McFarland, on a 25-yard pass to the end zone.
Just as the scoreboard reflected, the game was neck and neck at the half. With a 14-14 score, the game was just as tight with a 136-132 battle in yards. Plitt only threw two passes for the entire half, the interception and a big twelve yard pass to Jake Elfers for a first down. Gunner Gambill was forced to step up as the feature back for the Tigers as the Zanesville defense was shutting down Luke Waddell. On eight carries, Waddell had only gained 27 yards; an average of 3.2 yards per carry. Gambill picked up 92 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half of action.
Plitt began to pick up his performance in the third quarter including a marvelous 41-yard bomb to Giovanni Ricci that led to a Loveland touchdown. Then, a moment that would haunt the minds of Tiger fans later in the matchup; Evan Burig missed the extra point. Immediately, Loveland fans in the stands and watching on their TVs at home thought the worst, “what if a missed extra point costs us the season?” Their thought was justified. After the Tiger touchdown, the Blue Devils methodically marched down the frozen gridiron and made their extra point to take a 21-20 lead.
Now, to the fourth quarter. After the teams traded possessions for the majority of the quarter, Michael Weber slammed Wibbeler to the turf to pin the Zanesville drive inside their ten-yard line on fourth down, which meant all signs pointed to punt and great field position for the Tigers. After a wobbly punt by JT McFarland, Evan Dever attempted to field a ball at his feet; and then muffed the ball.
The Tigers had a chance to shut the books on the Zanesville drive when the Blue Devils pulled a wildcard; the direct snap fake punt. The Tigers had the Blue Devils halted on fourth and two when the fake punt was perfectly executed. A few plays later, the Devils would hand the ball to Jamel Giadden for a 38-yard touchdown. Immediately after that play, the “Tiger Faithful” begin the mass exodus to their cars assuming the worst; the season was over, the Tigers had lost.
To say the road to the championship was rough was an understatement. After rallying to beat the Mt. Healthy Fighting Owls in the Regional Finals, where they were down by 14 with under six minutes on the clock, the Tigers would be caught in a hole once again late in the game against the Blue Devils.
On their first attempt to make up for lost points, the fans once again felt that undeniable feeling in their stomach that the season may, in fact, be over, when Plitt threw a ball into triple coverage, inevitably picked off by the Zanesville defense.
After a great stand by the Tiger defense, a punt and a solid return by Dever gave the Tigers a 57- yard field to work with in order for his offense to have any chance of moving on to the state championship. Then, a legend was born. Plitt led the most perfect drive with only one minute remaining on the clock. Throwing completion after completion, hitting receivers on simple routes in order not to put the game in danger by throwing another interception, and picking up good yardage in an almost Tom Brady- like fashion. After those simple plays, Plitt delivered another deep touchdown to Giovanni Ricci, this time for 36 yards, to put the score at 28-26, still in favor of the Zanesville Blue Devils.
The Tigers had to make up for lost time, as the Burig missed extra point forced the Tigers to go for two late in the game. That’s when the “Holy Plitt” moment was born. The play was drawn up for Drew Plitt to run to the outside edge and into the end zone. The play appeared to be broken along with the Loveland Tigers when Plitt leapt into the air and across the goal line for the perfect two-point conversion. 28-28, the game would be knotted up and heading for overtime.
Zanesville started overtime with the ball. In high school overtime, both teams are given a position at the 20-yard line and battle it out until one team is either stopped or is forced to kick a field goal, which would then have to be followed up by a touchdown. Giadden would get them on the board first. After the extra point, the Blue Devils took a 35-28 lead. The Tigers then got the ball and allowed the previously scoreless Waddell to punch his way into the end zone. The kick by Burig was good and the game was knotted at 35-35.
The Tigers received the ball first to start the second overtime. The Zanesville defense refused to let the Tigers coast into the end zone, so head coach Fred Cranford put his faith in the left leg of Evan Burig, who earlier in the game had missed an extra point. The snap: good, the hold: good, and finally, the kick: good. The Tigers took a 38-35 lead, then it was up to the defense to stop Zanesville from taking their ticket to the Division II State Championship. On first down, quarterback, Wibbeler threw a near perfect pass to the corner of the end zone that would’ve sealed the game for the Blue Devils, but the feet of his target landed only inches out of bounds. After two more stops by the Tiger defense, the Blue Devils had no choice but to match the field goal by Burig, however Logan Graham doesn’t have that same ice water running through his blood that we’ve seen this postseason from Burig. The kick was missed, and once again, the Loveland Tigers had come back from the depths of failure to survive.
“It was the perfect recovery after that missed extra point,” said a near speechless Burig after the game.
Given a day to recover, the two players who nearly went down in infamy gave their comments on the game.
“It was a great team win. Two miracles in two weeks. This team is so amazingly resilient and persistent. I’m so blessed to be a part of this team and have the opportunity to play for this community,” said Burig, “I give a lot of credit to the unsung heroes, the long snapper (Danny Kruzel) and the holder (Jeff Prifti).”
“It was a great team win. We never give up. That’s what makes our team so special. We play hard every game because losing is not an option,” said Dever.
Drew Plitt said, “Tigers never stop believing because we fight until the very last second. Two weeks in a row. You can’t ever stop, because you never know what god has planned, so you have to do your best and see how it plays out. I couldn’t do it without my teammates picking me up after that second interception. Now, it’s on to Canton to play Glenville.”
Friday, the Loveland Tigers will take on the Cleveland-Glenville Tarblooders at Canton Fawcett Stadium, where the NFL Hall of Fame game is played every year. The stadium is next door to the National Football Hall of Fame. Game time is 7 PM.
The Tarblooders come into this game ranked #5 in the Division II Ohio AP polls, while the Tigers are posted at #2. The Tarblooders have the #1 Ranked player in Ohio in Marshon Lattimore, who is being recruited by a list of schools highlighted by Alabama, Ohio State, and Oregon. Lattimore plays wide receiver and corner and scored four touchdowns in Glenville’s 41-13 rout of Medina Heights on Friday night. Look for the Jeff Prifti versus Marshon Lattimore battle to be one of the best of all time.
The Loveland Tigers will have the opportunity to see what magic they have left in their flawless 14-0 season.