LIBERTY TWP., Ohio – The running back tandem of senior Gunner Gambill and freshman Luke Waddell helped Loveland defeat Northwest, 45-14, in the regional semifinal of Division II Region 6 playoffs at Lakota West Firebird Stadium Friday night.
Both running backs finished with career highs in rushing yardage. Gambill had 242 rushing yards and two touchdowns and Waddell finished with 198 rushing yards and a 65-yard touchdown that came in the first quarter.
The team had a remarkable 564 total yards, with 504 on the ground.
“This is exhilarating because I have never had a game like this before with the yardage and the amount of carries,” Gambill said. “This is really exciting.”
Gambill has totaled 325 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his first two playoff games. His second scoring play of the night came in the fourth quarter on a 53-yard touchdown run.
“Once I went through the hole I knew they were a lot faster than me so I bent it to the outside and dove into the end zone to not take a chance of getting caught from behind,” Gambill said.
Since the injury to junior running back Nate Slagel in Week 8, Gambill has moved into the starting fullback role. Despite the absence of Slagel, the Tigers have rushed for 841 yards in their first two playoff games.
“We have not lost a beat since he (Gambill) came in,” Loveland coach Fred Cranford said. “He runs hard and earns yards the hard way and it’s a good situation to be able to put him in as fullback.”
Waddell agreed with Cranford as he feels the running scheme has not changed since Gambill replaced Slegal in the backfield.
“The offensive line is the same so it’s the same holes,” Waddell said. “Gunner is a big runner who usually does not go down on first contact. We have made some adjustments but not many because Gunner is a good back.”
In an environment that mirrored a Loveland home game, the Tigers’ offense had 26 first downs.
The defense was impressive against a Northwest offense that totaled 441 yards a week ago against Harrison. Northwest ended Loveland’s 12-quarter scoreless streak in the first quarter when the Knights scored on their first two possessions.
The defense was able to hold the Knights scoreless for the next three quarters and allow only 177 total yards.
“We had to settle down emotionally and control our composure” Cranford said. “They had a few long drives at the beginning that really caught our defense off-guard.”
The beginning of the game was a back-and-forth battle with 35 total points scored in the first quarter alone. For the next three quarters, the Loveland offense controlled the time of possession and gradually pulled away, scoring 31 unanswered points.
The Loveland Tigers will face Mount Healthy in the next round Friday, after the Fighting Owls defeated Winton Woods, 13-10. The neutral site will be announced Sunday.
“Fundamentality they will be ready,” Cranford said. “I have played them so I have seen what they do and they have seen what I do, so it will be a smash-mouth game.”