By Ryan Hines
COLDWATER -- The defending Division IV state champion Coldwater Cavaliers dodged a bullet on Friday night at Cavalier Stadium.
Trailing 14-0 early in the third quarter, Coldwater scored 23 unanswered points in the second half to fend off an upset bid by Versailles as the Cavaliers prevailed, 23-14 in Midwest Athletic Conference action.
Coldwater (8-0, 7-0 MAC), the top-ranked team in Division IV, keeps its impressive streaks alive with 23 consecutive victories overall, 28 consecutive MAC triumphs and 32 straight home wins.
"You could see a determination in our kids that if we were going to go down, we were going to go down with all guns blazing," said Coldwater head coach John Reed. "We didn't play as well as we have in the past tonight, but again the credit for that has to go to Versailles. I told their coaches after the game that they didn't deserve to lose this game. They played well enough to win, no question about it. Versailles had every right to win this ball game but you have to give credit to our kids, they wouldn't be denied."
Versailles (4-4, 3-4 MAC) head coach Jason Schondelmyer was disappointed in the defeat after outplaying Coldwater for nearly three full quarters. "This one is tough to take," admitted Schondelmyer. "We have a new offense and new defense and finally we have the kids starting to understand it but we fall just short. To be in the game and come up short is unfortunate for this senior class.
"You just can't take a play off, especially against a team like Coldwater that has a lot of weapons," added Schondelmyer. "Our kids played hard and busted their butts, and that's all you can ask."
It looked bleak early in the second half for Cavaliers fans when Versailles pushed its lead to 14 points when Eric Grilliot returned a Sam Slavik fumble 40 yards for a touchdown.
The fumble seemed to spark the Cavaliers, though, as Coldwater scored the next 23 points off an offensive balance featuring Tony Harlamert's rushing game with Slavik's passing game.
It took Coldwater just five plays to cover 80 yards for a touchdown on its ensuing possession. The big play on the drive being a 57-yard pass from Slavik to Harlamert placing the ball inside the 10-yard line. Harlamert scored two plays later on a five-yard run.
Just two possessions later, Coldwater tied the score at 14-14 when Matt Hoyng hauled in a 41-yard delivery from Slavik at the 9:39 mark of the fourth quarter.
After Versailles stalled on its next possession, Coldwater marched down the field for a 14-play drive that left the ball at the six-yard line for a fourth-down decision for Reed. The Cavaliers were 0-for-2 on fourth-down gambles in the first half and Reed called on kicker Mario de la Rosa to take the lead and the sophomore converted on a 23-yard attempt to give the Cavaliers a 17-14 advantage.
"We really just started to go back to doing things that we know we can do on offense," said Reed. "We went back to basics and it was good for us tonight."
With 2:37 left on the clock, Versailles had plenty of time to mount a game-winning drive, but Ethan Oliver fumbled on the Tigers' second play and Coldwater's Adam Hoying fell on the ball for the Cavaliers.
Coldwater added to its lead in a hurry as Harlamert took the first handoff, cut to the outside and raced down the sidelines for a 39-yard touchdown at the 2:09 mark giving Coldwater the nine-point advantage. Harlamert, who just gained 31 yards in the first half, finished the contest with 107 yards on 16 carries with a pair of scores.
Slavik ended his night 14-of-30 for 266 yards with one touchdown and one interception to go along with his fumble that Versailles returned for a score.
"I think that they just executed better in the second half and maybe got a fire lit underneath of them at halftime," said Schondelmyer. "We missed some tackles and when you miss tackles against great football teams you lose the game."
Reed credited his defensive coaches for the second-half turnaround by the Cavaliers. Versailles had 163 total yards in the first half (147 rushing) but managed just 100 total yards in the second half (68 rushing).
"The defensive coaches Tim Hoyng and Jason Hemmelgarn made some really good adjustments at halftime on their (Versailles') option play," acknowledged Reed. "They were hurting us with all three phases of their option and after halftime the only other time they scored, we gave it to them."
Coldwater is back in action again on Friday at Fort Recovery while Versailles entertains St. Henry at Hole Field.