Behind a powerful running game and three TDs from receiver Tate Seyfert, Cedar Crest captured its fifth straight Cedar Bowl on Friday night, topping Lebanon 26-14.
Heading into the 45th Cedar Bowl, Cedar Crest, like most teams beginning a new season, had its fair share of questions to answer.
Chief among them was, would it be able to duplicate the physical running game that was one of its biggest strengths a season ago despite returning just one starter on the offensive line?
In a word, yes.
Behind the power running of backs Justice Belleman and AJ Apple, and a three-touchdown night from senior wideout Tate Seyfert, Cedar Crest bulled its way to a fifth straight Cedar Bowl on Friday night at Alumni Stadium, piling up 285 yards on the ground on the way to a 26-14 triumph on Lebanon's home turf.
Led by Belleman's 176 yards on 26 carries, Cedar Crest never trailed en route to the season-opening win, taking the lead for good on the first of two Chad Ryland 22-yard field goals with 4:15 left in the opening quarter, then producing a 13-play 79-yard smash mouth scoring drive to open the third quarter that all but settled the outcome.
Lebanon turned in an admirable effort of its own, led by sophomore quarterback Zakee Sailsman, but couldn't quite match the Falcons' physicality when it mattered most.
"Yeah, I think so. I think they played tough," said Cedar Crest coach Rob Wildasin, when asked if the Falcons answered the aforementioned questions about their physicality. "I liked that they kept digging in the second half, we had some big long drives. Lebanon did some things defensively that were tricky for us, but they (the offense) played tough.
"They're awesome," Wildasin added of the play of Belleman and Apple. "Obviously it starts with the offensive line, but those kids really are tough."
So tough, that they opened up opportunities in the passing game for Seyfert and sophomore quarterback Logan Horn, who connected for touchdowns, of 19 and 38 yards.
The 19-yarder came with 2:27 left in the first quarter and after three straight runs and put the Falcons up 10-0. Lebanon would respond with a physical scoring march of its own to slice the deficit to 10-7 after Josh Kauffman smashed into the end zone from a yard out with 8:11 left in the first half.
But Cedar Crest would take a 13-7 lead into intermission after Ryland's second field goal with 10 seconds left in the half that was set up by a Zach Keffer interception.
The Falcons then stormed out of the break with that 13-play 79-yard march -12 of which were runs - that culminated with Seyfert racing in from 8 yards out 5:23 into the second half.
"Our line played great," Seyfert said. "Justice got the ball and worked it hard, and AJ worked it hard, too. Our line did most of it."
"That was a backbreaker," Lebanon coach Gerry Yonchiuk said of Cedar Crest's opening drive in the third. "We did some good things to get some stops in the second quarter and we talked about going three and out (to start the second half). But we didn't do it. They went 80 yards and took it to us on that particular drive."
Seyfert would add his 38-yard TD catch later in the third for a 26-7 lead, and though Lebanon would hang tough the rest of the way behind a 10-yard TD catch by Luis Aquino-RIos with 8:39 left, it was powerless to keep Crest from again hoisting the Cedar Bowl trophy.
"It means a lot," Seyfert said. "We get to keep our trophy back at Cedar Crest, five years in a row. But we can't be satisfied with one win. We gotta keep going."
Cedar Crest 26, Lebanon 14
Cedar Crest _ 10 _ 3 _ 13 _ 0 _ — _ 26
Lebanon _ 0 _ 7 _ 0 _ 7 _ — _ 14
CC — Ryland 22 FG
CC - Seyfert 19 pass from Horn (Ryland kick)
L — Kauffman 1 run (Kissinger kick)
CC — Ryland 22 FG
CC — Seyfert 8 run (Ryland kick)
CC — Seyfert 38 pass from Horn (pass failed)
L — Aquino-Rios 10 pass from Sailsman (Kissinger kick)
_ Cedar Crest _ Lebanon
First downs _ 23 _ 16
Rushes-yards _ 48-285 _ 31-104
Passing _ 6-12-1 _ 12-20-2
Passing yards _ 105 _ 91
Total yards _ 390 _ 195
Punts _ 1-35.0 _ 3-31.7
Fumbles-lost _ 2-1 _ 0-0
Penalties-yards _ 9-55 _ 3-23
Rushing — CC: Belleman 26-176, Apple 17-98, Seyfert 3-12, Horn 2- (-1). L: Kauffman 13-69, Sailsman 14-35, Hillesheim 4-0.
Passing — CC: Horn 6-12-1-105, L: Sailsman 12-20-2-91
Receiving — CC: Seyfert 3-77, Keffer 1-13, Loehr 1-10, Joseph 1-5. L: Beckley 3-20, Ortiz 3-19, Hillesheim 2-26, Kauffman 2-7, Aquino-Rios 1-10, Kissinger 1-9.