CANTON, Ohio - For once, the Loveland Tigers didn't make an amazing comeback.
Their start was amazing enough.
After using all of their nine lives in the playoffs to get to the state championship game, the Tigers made sure they didn’t need another one.
Loveland scored five touchdowns in the first half and took a 34-0 halftime lead on the way to a 41-23 rout of Cleveland Glenville to win the Ohio Division II championship and cap an undefeated season in the snow at Fawcett Stadium Friday night.
The Tigers (15-0) did what they do best - the offense ran the ball for 340 yards and the defense smothered Glenville into seven turnovers. The Tarblooders (13-2) didn’t know what hit them.
“We just came here and hit them right in the mouth like we planned on it,” Loveland linebacker Brian Popp said. “We knew if we had a fast start we’d be tough to catch.”
“Defense wins championship and we capitalized on that tonight,” coach Fred Cranford said.
The defensive surge by Popp, Charlie Lawler, Darren Sackett, Michael Weber and Jake Saunders had the larger Glenville offensive line on their heels all night long.
If they were the Tarblooders' worst nightmare, the snow was a close second. The Tarblooders committed five turnovers in the first half and the Tigers scored a touchdown after each one. Loveland lost two fumbles in the first half (three for the game), but Glenville couldn’t capitalize.
Tigers running back Luke Waddell racked up 130 yards before intermission and ended the night with 175 yards and a touchdown. He finished his freshman year with 1,585 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns.
“This summer they brought me in and loved me like a brother and it went from there,” the young Waddell spoke of his upperclass teammates. “They are really great seniors and juniors, they just let me in. It was awesome.”
Senior Gunner Gambill picked up the slack in the second half. His 115 yards on the ground gave him 1,044 yards for the year, making him the third Loveland back to top 1,000 yards this season. He was pressed into backfield service when Ohio Offensive Player of the Year Nate Slagel went down for the year with a torn ACL in Week 8.
Five Loveland players reached the end zone, with Gambill scoring twice on 5- and 6-yard runs.
QB Drew Plitt threw two scoring passes, 22 yards to Tre Heath and 12 yards to Jake Evers.
But the biggest scoring plays belonged to Waddell and Beau Ngu.
Loveland’s first drive ended with a fumble at the Glenville 1-yard line, and that might have shaken the Tigers’ confidence.
If so, Waddell quickly restored it on their next offensive play when he raced 66 yards for the game’s first score.
After two second-quarter TDs, Ngu knocked the wind out of the Tarblooders with a 50-yard pick-six – the seventh by the opportunistic Tigers this year.
The 27 points the Tigers scored in the second quarter were the most points in one quarter of a Division II championship game, according to the OHSAA.
Cranford said he had never seen anything like it, then he added:
“Nothing surprises me with this group of young men. The toughness and the character that they played with, it’s a testament to all their hard work and what they bring to the table. It’s really a surprise that we are here after what we had to go through the last two weeks.
"It's who we are. We believed from the beginning and we got it done."
The Tigers had been the cardiac kids the past two weeks. Loveland had to score 21 points in the fourth quarter to beat Mount Healthy in its third-round playoff game, and the Tigers had to rally to tie Zanesville in the final minute before winning in overtime last week.
When Glenville finally did score to start the third quarter, Loveland answered on its next possession, as if to say, "Oh, no, you don't."
“When we got to the locker room (at halftime), Coach Cranford was there to bring us back down, kinda knock us off our little emotional high,” Lawler said. “We knew we had two quarters to play. We realized they were going to go all out with guns blazing. We weathered the storm and wrapped up the game.
“It’s just amazing.”
As Glenville marched toward another TD midway through the fourth quarter, Sackett recovered a fumble – Glenville’s seventh turnover - at the 9-yard line.
At that point, the Tigers were able to run out the clock for a change.
Sackett led the Tigers defense with 8.5 tackles. Max Mather had seven and Weber had six.
Plitt was 5-of-5 passing for 66 yards.
This was the first state title for a Loveland team in any sport, and Tigers fans came out in big numbers to show their support. The school sold 2,500 tickets for Friday's game.
“Tiger Nation, they’re awesome,” Mather said in an interview on the field while noisy fans were still cheering after the game. “They drove up here four hours in the snow and the rain. You can see them. You can hear them. They’re loud. They’re always here for us."
RELATED: See game stats and play-by-play
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