LOCKLAND, Ohio - Loveland knocked off Mount Healthy in one of the most gut-wrenching, breathtaking finishes you could ever see.
The undefeated Tigers won the Division II Region 6 title Friday night in comeback fashion, 35-28, by scoring the final 21 points of the game in the fourth quarter on Grein Field at Roettger Memorial Stadium.
“It’s one of the most ridiculous feelings I’ve ever had," said Loveland senior running back Gunner Gambill. “At first I was tearing up because I thought it was going to be the end. But our team never gave up and at the end it was tears of happiness.”
Loveland (13-0) advances to the state semifinals against Zanesville (13-0) next Friday night at a site to be determined by the OHSAA.
“I’m proud of these kids, they’re resilient. This is football in southwest Ohio at its finest,” said Loveland head coach Fred Cranford. “Credit to our kids for believing. They didn’t quit.”
Loveland trailed 28-14 midway through the fourth quarter and things were looking bleak for the Tigers, but senior safety Max Mather picked off a pass in Owl territory and moments later the comeback was under way with a 10-yard touchdown run from freshman running back Luke Waddell.
“Our defensive line got a great push and we got a hit on the quarterback, he threw the ball up and it was wobbly,” said Mather. “It came right to me. I got it at the highest point and fell right to the ground.”
Loveland wasted little time scoring again as Gambill tied the game at 28 with his 1-yard touchdown run with 3:49 to go.
Mount Healthy (11-2) looked like it was about to answer the Tigers' score when the Owls drove deep into Loveland territory with under two minutes to play..
While fighting for extra yards, Mount Healthy star Tyree Elliott had the ball stripped and Loveland senior Mike Weber picked it up and went 81 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
There was confusion on the ensuing kickoff for the Owls and their final drive started deep in their own territory. After a few failed plays from Mount Healthy, the Tigers recovered a fumbled snap on fourth down and the game was over.
Statistically these teams were very close as Loveland outgained the Owls by just 12 yards in total offense, 371 to 359, and both teams turned the ball over three times.
Loveland's Waddell and Gambill each ran for two touchdowns. Waddell had 122 yards on just 12 carries and another 26 yards on two catches.
Sophomore quarterback David Montgomery and Elliott, a senior wide receiver, were the standout performers for Mount Healthy.
Montgomery ran for 222 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries and also threw a TD pass. But he left the game with an injury late in the fourth quarter and the Owls had to put Elliott under center. That’s a position Elliott had played in the past.
Earlier, Elliott scored two touchdowns on a 35-yard catch and an 8-yard run out of the Wildcat formation.
While its season came to a heartbreaking end, Mount Healthy had a great season, advancing further in the postseason than any other team in school history. Mount Healthy will need to replace many outstanding seniors to defend its SWOC title in 2014.