By Rob Kiser
TOLEDO — Kewpee Burgers never taste bad.
But, when the Piqua football team made a stop at coach Bill Nees favorite hamburger place Friday night on the way back from the season opener, they had to taste particularly sweet.
Nees had just watched his team struggle to hold a 27-7 halftime lead over Toledo St. John’s before putting an exclamation point on a 34-30 victory at Lyden Field.
“This was huge for this team,” Nees said. “We had a few games in the fourth quarter last year that we weren’t able to finish. And Toledo St. John’s is a good football team.”
Piqua seemed to be in complete control after amassing 354 yards of offense in the first half and taking a 27-7 lead.
But, with the clocking running down under one minute in the fourth quarter, Piqua was clinging to a 27-24 lead and faced a third-and-15 from its own 29 — with the Titans having one timeout remaining.
“We decided we were going to run the ball and make them use their last timeout,” Nees said. “But, you really didn’t want to see their quarterback (Matt Winzeler) back on the field the way he was playing.”
Darian Tipps-Clemons made sure it didn’t matter when Winzeler did get back out there.
Clemons headed around the left side and didn’t stop until he got to the end zone and had locked up a Piqua victory.
“We just had to do it,” Clemons, who unofficially finished with 230 yards on 23 carries, said. “Originally, my thought was a first down. Then I saw the hole my blockers gave me.”
Piqua quarterback Rupert Delacruz felt some relief.
“I am not a big fan of overtime,” he said. “I am not sure we would have won this game last year. I thought Darien (Tipps-Clemons) was going to get tackled on the play. But, of course, we all know Darien is not going to get tackled.”
Noah Lyman’s PAT kick made it 34-24 and made St. John’s touchdown on the game’s final play harmless.
Lyman did his damage on offense as well, with 201 yards receiving on six catches in the game, including a 16-yard catch on third and 12 to keep the final drive alive.
“This (making a play at the end to win) is the greatest feeling,” Lyman said. “I never expected to have a game like that, but we have worked hard for this and it feels great.”
It never looked like a late touchdown would be necessary after a dominating first half by the Indians.
St. John’s drove down the field on the opening drive of the game, but on third and four from the Piqua 23, the ball was snapped over the quarterback’s head and the Titans had to punt.
Tipps-Clemons set the tone on the opening play of the night from the Piqua seven, running 74 yards to the St. John’s 19.
Five plays later, he would score from two yards out and Lyman’s kick would make it 7-0.
“I just got the ball and took off,” Clemons said.
On Piqua’s next possession, the Indians would go 79 yards on 14 plays, with Elijah Hudson scoring from three yards out.
That was set up by Lyman make a diving catch on a third and five from the Piqua 26 for 29 yards to keep the drive going.
After Hudson’s TD, the PAT was blocked to make it 13-0.
“He (Noah Lyman) kept us alive a lot tonight,” Nees said. He had a great game.
He made diving catches look easy all night.
“I have a lot of confidence in all my receivers,” Delacruz said. “I know if I give him a chance, Noah (Lyman) will make a play.”
Later, in the second quarter, St. John’s would fumble and Piqua would go 66 yards in six plays to make it 20-0.
Andrew Lee had a 51-yard reception on the drive to set up Hudson’s 1-yard TD run. Lyman’s PAT was good.
After the Titans got on the board with and eight-yard pass from Winzeler to Peter McIntyre and McIntrye added the PAT kick with 1:33 left in the first half to make it 20-7, Piqua came up with two big plays.
Starting on its own 20, it took Piqua just two plays to score.
Lyman lined up wide and no Titans went to that side of the field.
“My eyes got pretty big,” Lyman said.
Piqua quarterback Rupert Delacruz alertly spotted him and Lyman took the the ball down to the Titans one, with Tipps-Clemons scoring on the next play. Lyman’s kick made it 27-7.
“That was a freebie,” Delacruz said. “I heard coach (Troy) Ouhl yelling to get the ball to Noah (Lyman).”
It looked like St. John’s would answer in the final minute of the half, but on second and goal from the 10, Derek Hite sacked Winzeler and the clock ran out.
“I was able to get off the edge and make a play,” Hite said. “I knew the clock was going to run out.”
Nees said the end of the first half was pivotal.
“When they (Toledo St. John’s) looks back at the film, there are two plays where they are going to kick themselves,” he said. “The play when they didn’t have anyone on Noah (Lyman) and the play at the end of the half when they had a chance to score. Those two plays were game changers.”
But, the second half was a different story as St. Johns scored 17 unanswered points to get within 27-24 with just over three minutes remaining.
Which ultimately, may have been the best thing that ever could have happened for Piqua.
“I think we did lose a little focus at the start of the second half,” Lyman said. “But, to win the way we did. That is huge for this team.”
Delacruz finished the game with seven completions in 10 attempts for 252 yards, while the Indians rushed for more than 300 yards. Most importantly, they left with a win.
And Nees got to hear some sweet music.
“That is the greatest feeling in the world on opening night,” Nees said. “To have the Piqua band play the fight song to us after a win. I can’t say enough about the band and what a great way to celebrate a win.”
Then it was off to Kewpees for some sweet tasting burgers, before getting ready for a home game this week with Urbana.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.