For The Duncan Banner
CRESCENT — A nightmarish opening three minutes to the second half turned Empire’s dream into doom Friday as homestanding Crescent escaped with a 28-25 opening round Class A playoff victory.
Empire surged to a 19-15 halftime advantage and out-gained the Tigers by 74 total yards through the first two quarters.
But Crescent quarterback Preston Walker, working with a stiff south wind at his back, heaved a 57-yard touchdown pass to Tristan Lacey on the first play of the third quarter.
Then, after Empire fumbled two plays later, Walker threw again to Lacey, this time for a 5-yard scoring strike -- and in less than three minutes, Crescent had turned a 5-point deficit into a 9-point lead.
Though Empire had chances and created opportunities, it could not overcome early second half outburst. Twigg, just a sophomore, led all rushers with 198 yards on 21 carries. He scored three of Empire’s four touchdowns. Freddy Larsen, an exchange student from Denmark, scored the other.
Empire’s defense kept Walker in check most of the night, and the shifty QB who has thrown for 30 TD out of the Tigers’ spread offense had trouble gaining yards on the ground. Yet, he still threw for 194 yards and four touchdowns.
Lacey was his favorite target, leading all receivers with three catches for 81 yards.
"It was a great effort by our guys," Empire head coach Tony Roberts said. "We gave Crescent all it wanted and just came up short. You can’t fault anyone in a game like that. This is tough to swallow, but we showed a lot of character tonight -- and that’s what I was looking for."
The Bulldogs finished the season at 7-4 and qualified for the playoffs for a third consecutive season under Roberts. Only in his first season at the helm has Roberts’ Bulldogs not make the postseason. They’’ve finished third in their in the past two seasons.
Empire will open next season with an eye toward its first playoff victory -- a 7-0 win over Wayne -- since 1991. "We’re still trying to find a way to take the next step," Roberts said.
For the first 24 minutes of Friday’s game, it looked like Empire would take the next step. The Bulldogs opened the game with a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that lasted nearly the entire first quarter.
By the time Twigg took a reverse 20 yards into the end zone, there was just 2:46 remaining in the quarter. But Crescent made the most of it, using just 1:10 for Walker to toss a 15-yard TD pass to Swade Stafford.
Empire answered with a 66-yard scoring scamper by Twigg with 6:50 left in the half.
Then, in another flurry, the two teams exchanged touchdowns in the last two minutes of the half.
After Empire’s lead slipped away, the Bulldogs clawed their way back into the game. They pieced together another 15-play, 80-yard scoring drive to cut the deficit to 3. Empire had the ball three more times after that, but the possessions ended with a punt and two turovers on downs.
Crescent 28, Empire 25
Empire 7 12 6 0 — 25
Crescent 7 7 11 0 — 28
Empire — Dillon Twigg 20-yard run (Anthony Gonzalez kick), 2:46.
Crescent — Swade Stafford 15-yard pass from Preston Walker (Tristan Lacey kick), 1:36.
Empire — Twigg 66-yard run (Gonzalez kick fail), 6:50.
Crescent — Michael Cronister 25-yard pass from Walker (Lacey kick), 1:29.
Empire — Freddy Larsen 19-yard pass from Tanner Shorter (Pass failed), 0:41.
Crescent — Lacey 57-yard pass from Walker (Lacey kick), 11:41.
Crescent — Lacey 5-yard pass from Walker (Lacey kick), 9:18.
Empire — Twigg 3-yard run (Rrun failed), 3:22.
First Downs 18 11
Rushing Yards 328 52
Passing Yards 26 194
Total Offense 354 246
C-A-I 2-8-0 14-25-1
Penalties-Yds 11-82 6-55
RUSHING: Empire — Dillon Twigg 21-198, Stephen Price 15-73, Tanner Shorter 21-43. Crescent — Michael Cronister 7-32, Preston Walker 10-19, Tristan Lacey 1-1.
PASSING: Empire — Tanner Shorter 2-6-0, 26 yards; Dillon Twigg 0-2-0. Crescent — Preston Walker 14-25-1, 194 yards.
RECEIVING: Empire — Freddy Larsen 1-19, Dillon Twigg 1-7. Crescent — Tristan Lacey 3-81, Michael Cronister 4-33, Ty Heiden 3-27, Devon Bledsoe 2-23, Swade Stafford 2-22.