By Cort Reynolds
Ada Herald writer
ADA - The battle of the local titans for the Northwest Conference championship Friday night at Ada lived up to the advance billing, storylines and season-long anticipation.Two fierce, unbeaten rivals facing off in the regular season finale for the title. A physical battle intensified by the elements of steady rain, a muddy field and late October cold. Lima Central Catholic playing its last league game against the only team to usurp them as champions during their seven-year NWC tenure in Ada.
Ultimately, powerful LCC overcame the conditions and a game Bulldog squad to tally three touchdowns in the final 10 minutes and pull off a 27-13 comeback win at Ada during a steady rain that turned the turf at War Memorial Stadium into a virtual quagmire.
The heartbreaking loss finished the outstanding Bulldog regular season at 9-1 overall and 7-1 in the NWC, good for sole possession of second place in the 10-team conference behind unbeaten champion LCC (10-0, 8-0 NWC).
The Thunderbirds clinched their third conference crown in a row and fifth in seven years with the dramatic come-from-behind victory.
Ada had taken a 13-7 lead into halftime after an 80-yard drive ate up much of the second period, capped by a Kellen Decker one-yard touchdown plunge. The teams battled through a scoreless third period in the rain and mud before LCC began to assert control with its running game.
Blake Ansley tackled elusive LCC quarterback Colin Stolly for a seven-yard loss to thwart a Thunderbird drive late in the third stanza. But a good LCC punt died at the Ada four to ominously pin the Bulldogs back deep as the period expired.
Three plays and a penalty moved Ada back to its own two. From the back of his own end zone, Jacob Ansley got off a fine 40-yard punt that LCC almost muffed but recovered to take over on the Ada 42 with 11:37 remaining to play.
After a T-Bird first down, Bulldog sophomore linebacker Luke Long made a big five-yard tackle for loss on a sweep.
But on the next play, Stolly lofted a well-thrown pass over the middle to
Darius West, who hauled it in around the 15 and high-stepped into the end zone past a diving defender for a 36-yard TD with 9:52 to go. Stolly's successful extra point kick gave the visitors a slim 14-13 edge.
The Bulldogs gained possession at their own 35, and a screen to Ansley from senior quarterback Mason Acheson gained 12 big yards. Then came one of the biggest plays of the night.
Acheson completed a pass along the sideline to Micah Roberson for a first down to the LCC 20. But a host of T-Bird defenders stood up the Ada senior receiver and amid the pileup, they stripped him of the pigskin and returned it 11 yards. Bulldog supporters wanted the play stopped due to forward progress but no whistle was forthcoming.
The quick, sure-footed Stolly continued to swing the momentum to LCC with a speedy 26-yard sprint around right end in the mud on the very next play. On third and five moments later the junior QB again kept the ball for 24 huge yards around the right end again.
Speedy Mykale Rogers then scampered around the same right side for an 18-yard TD with 5:55 left to play. However, this time Stolly's PAT try sailed wide right to keep the potent Bulldogs within striking distance at 20-13.
After a short kickoff, Ada again garnered good field position at its own 37. A late hit on Acheson after an incomplete third down aerial gave the Bulldogs a first down at the T-Bird 45.
Defensive holding earned Ada another first down via penalty. Two short runs and a five-yard pass to Matt Wilcox set up a momentous fourth and two play at the LCC 27 with the clock ticking down.
Acheson rolled right in the mud looking for an open receiver, but before he could pass he was sacked for a loss of eight near the Ada sideline to turn the ball over on downs.
Taking possession with 3:30 remaining, LCC needed a first down or two to run out the clock. On third and three, they barely gained the necessary yardage to move the chains to all but seal the verdict.
Following a five-yard Stolly run, Jon Washington put the game away for certain by speeding 50 yards almost untouched past the stacked-up Ada defense to paydirt with just 40 seconds left.
Stolly's third extra point kick put the finishing touch on the decisive 20-point T-Bird fourth quarter outburst.
The game started out inauspiciously for Ada. A good opening kickoff return by Decker gave the purple and gold possession just shy of midfield. But on the first play from scrimmage, Acheson's pass to the left flat area was intercepted by a diving West.
However, the Bulldog defense came up big and held with the aid of two T-Bird penalties. Ada was stopped three and out and LCC took over at the 50 moments later.
Stolly quickly hooked up with speedy senior Sam Huffman on an intermediate distance pass along the visiting sideline, and he outraced the Ada secondary to the end zone to tally a 50-yard TD with 5:36 to go in the first period.
Following the ensuing pickoff, the Bulldogs took over at their own 30 and seemed to be stopped on fourth and two. But on a gutsy call, the hosts faked a punt aided by a good Ansley fake. After receiving the short snap, Decker rumbled 12 yards to keep the drive alive and give Ada precious momentum.
Another 12-yard Decker run set up the first Bulldog score. Acheson then tossed a screen to Roberson on the right side, and he juked his way through the defense for a 30-yard catch and carry score. Hunter Waller's point after boot tied it 7-7 with 2:41 to go in the first quarter.
A short punt gave LCC excellent position at the Ada 30 to start their first possession of period number two. The T-Birds penetrated to the Bulldog four before stalling against the Ada defense. After an incomplete pass on third down, they elected to try and 21-yard field goal.
But on the slippery field, Stolly's boot sailed under the crossbar to keep the game tied.
Dodging that bullet, the Ada offense embarked on a massive, time-consuming drive to seize its first lead of the night. A clutch 27-yard pass over the middle to Wilcox on third and 12 moved the ball to the 45.
Acheson was sacked for what appeared to be a loss of 14, but defensive holding in the secondary earned Ada a first down as the T-Birds continued to hurt themselves with undisciplined flags.
A screen to Ansley netted seven yards, and on fourth and one the determined Decker hammered into the line for a gain of three. A Decker sweep to the left picked up 12 more yards. A 14-yard strike from Acheson to Wilcox on the right sideline advanced the ball to the LCC four.
Decker netted three yards off tackle, then carried the final yard on second and goal to put Ada in front, 13-7. Yet LCC blocked the PAT kick to keep the deficit at six with just 40 seconds left in the half.
The visitors mounted a last-minute, 55-yard drive behind the passing of Stolly. But Stolly's long scramble inside the Ada 10 came up short as time expired in the second quarter with the Bulldogs clinging to the touchdown lead.
Both teams then battled valiantly in the steady rain and mud throughout the second half before the LCC line and running game finally broke through for three touchdowns in the fourth period to win by a deceptively large margin.
Ada has outscored its opposition 382-106 this season (38.2 points to 10.6 per game average). The 13 points was their low single-game output of the season, and the 27 they allowed to the high-powered T-Birds was second to the 29 scored by Bluffton in week five's two-day shootout.
Bulldog coach Mike Fell is now 68-17 (.800) and 2-5 against LCC in seven campaigns at Ada. The 9-1 Bulldog record this year is his third-best regular season mark at Ada, behind only consecutive 10-0 seasons in 2008-09.
1 2 3 4 F
Ada 7 6 0 0 13
LCC 7 0 0 20 27
Ada will host a first round Div. VI, region 24 playoff game Friday, November 2 against an opponent to be determined. The Bulldogs are 4-0 in home first round playoff games and are making their seventh consecutive post-season appearance.
The Bulldogs entered the LCC week 10 showdown ranked first in the regional computer ratings, and were third in the state AP Div. VI poll.
Ada is 9-7 all-time in seven post-season showings, including 9-6 under coach Mike Fell. They advanced to the state semifinals in 2007 for their deepest playoff run.
In 2008 and 2009, Ada roared to 12-0 records both years before losing to Delphos St. John's in the regional finals, each time in close battles.
Last fall, the Bulldogs fell to eventual state champion Marion Local in the second round. Ada has not lost a first round playoff game since falling at Hardin Northern in 2006.
The Bulldogs are 4-1 at home this season - although they did finish off a week five win at home against Bluffton in a marathon that began on the road before a weather suspension forced a change of venue - and were 5-0 on the road.