NORTH LIMA -Before kickoff for Friday night's Crestview-South Range showdown, Raider coach Dan Yeagley gathered his team and talked about how they were playing for more than just themselves.
He spoke of playing for past and future South Range players and every last member of the community. The Raiders then charged onto the field and delivered an effort worthy of his message.
Behind 245 rushing yards and five touchdowns from running back Joe Alessi, South Range stunned Crestview 49-35. The Raiders avenged last year's 57-14 loss to the Rebels and move to 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the Inter-Tri County League upper tier, claiming an early advantage in the league title race.
"It's just an awesome feeling right now," Alessi said. "We've been preparing for this game all season long, We knew what we had to do. Our line had a great game, our defense shut them down, and we achieved what we set out to do."
The Raiders came into the game knowing their leading rusher Billy Goodall would be limited with the flu. That did not alter their gameplan one bit, Yeagley simply turned to the next back in his rotation, Alessi. The junior propelled the Raiders to a 27-21 halftime lead with a monster first half, going for 200 yards and four touchdowns. The Raiders finished with 337 yards on the ground and 443 total yards.
"I have three great running backs and Joe is one of them," Yeagley said. "We're a team, whoever steps up and whoever gets the call we have all the confidence in."
The Rebels (3-1, 0-1 ITCL) saw an end to both their 22-game regular-season win streak and 22-game league winning streak. The Rebel offense, which set an area record for points scored in 2012, was held to 279 total yards. The Rebels came in averaging over 400 yards a game this year.
"South Range played their A-plus game tonight," Crestview coach Paul Cusick said. "They lined up and ran right at us. We knew they would be physical, we knew they believed in what they were doing and they were just better. Give them credit for a great game plan."
The Rebels wasted no time jumping ahead when quarterback Collin Gilbert raced 51 yards up the middle to give Crestview a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter. Gilbert led the Rebels with 130 rushing yards,
However, the Raiders quickly showed that this wasn't going to be another ITCL romp for Crestview. Alessi capped the next three drives with touchdown runs of 25, 60 and 14 yards respectively, giving the Raiders a 20-14 lead early in the second quarter.
"I have to give all the credit tonight to my offensive line and my teammates," Alessi said. "They opened holes all night."
After Crestview answered with a long scoring drive, the Raiders then came right back with Alessi, chewing up the remaining five minutes of the first half. Alessi gave South Range the lead for good on a 36 yard romp with under a minute to go in the half. South Range was aided by three 15-yard personal foul penalties by Crestview in the first half.
"Penalties were something we needed to clean up and we didn't do that tonight," Cusick said. "As coaches and players we have to be more mature and do a better job of keeping our heads in the game."
The Raiders took their first possession of the second half and went on another long drive. Quarterback Ryan Miller hit Bryce Allen on a 22-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-10 to make it 34-21 with a minute left in the third.
"One way were were able to hold them (Crestview) down was keeping their offense off the field," Yeagley said. Those two drives at the end of the second and beginning of the third were huge. You could feel our guys start to believe."
The Rebels drew to within one score on a 58-yard punt return by Zack Hicks early in the fourth quarter, but failed to convert a fourth down at the South Range 30 on their next drive. The Raiders took over and put the game away with Alessi, who made it 42-28 with an 11 yard run with 3:49 left.
"This was a total program win," Yeagley said. "I'm thrilled to death for our kids. They fought really hard to get to this point and they believed. They believed in each other, they believed in the coaches and they got it done. What can you say, it's an awesome feeling."
South Range travels to East Palestine next week, while Crestview visits Lisbon.
"How we respond will reveal our character," Cusick said. "I don't want anybody pointing fingers at each other this week. Coaches and players both have to do a better job."
The last win for South Range over Crestview was in 2007, the last year the Raiders won the conference title.
The last ITCL loss for Crestview came in 2009 against Mineral Ridge.
SOUTH RANGE 6-21-7-15-49
C-Collin Gilbert 51 yard run (Caleb McGath kick)
SR-Joe Alessi 25 yard run (kick failed)
SR-Joe Alessi 60 yard run (Tyler Rothbauer kick)
C-Trevor Cope 5 yard run (McGath kick)
SR-Joe Alessi 14 yard run (Rothbauer kick)
C-Jake Ferris 2 yard run (McGath kick)
SR-Joe Alessi 36 yard run (Rothbauer kick)
SR-Ryan Miller 22 yard pass to Bryce Allen (Rothbauer kick)
C-Zack Hicks 58 yard punt return (McGath kick)
SR-Joe Alessi 11 yard run (Miller run)
SR-David McCabe 15 yard run (Rothbauer kick)
C-Collin Gilbert 16 yard pass to Jesse Best (McGath kick)
First downs 1421
Total Yards 279436
RUSHING-Crestview, Collin Gilbert 13-130, Trevor Cope 14-79; South Range, Joe Alessi 29-245, Bryce Allen 5-80.
PASSING-Crestview, Collin Gilbert 8-17-76 ; South Range, Ryan Miller 9-11-78.
RECEIVING-Crestview, Jake Ward 6-34.; South Range, Bryce Allen 3-40, Zach Thorpe 5-38.
INTERCEPTIONS- South Range, Greg Dunham.