BROOKFIELD – Separating Brookfield High's Haden Gibson and LaBrae's Tre'von Drake is difficult, at best.
One a junior, the other a senior ... both are listed at about 6-foot and 180 pounds.
And both must be among the best players in the Ohio High School Athletic Association in 2020. But Drake, during Saturday night's Division VI Region 21 second-round playoff game was slightly better.
Drake returned kickoffs 87 and 84 yards for touchdowns and caught Aidan Stephens' 43-yard, 4th-quarter TD toss and also pilfered a pass, leading LaBrae to a 55-54 win over the Warriors.
But equally as great as Drake, in defeat was the gritty Gibson, who garnered glowing praise.
Brookfield's senior signal-caller turned in a 41-carry, 355-yard, 6-touchdown rushing performance and he also collaborated with Isaiah Jones on a 32-yard scoring strike.
At George Nicholas Field, however, with LaBrae leading 55-54 following Gibson's 3-yard TD run with 11 ticks to play, the Warriors went for the win. Gibson, rolling to his right, was tackled by Vikings' freshman defensive end Stephen Hemberger.
"You know, that's a really tough call," admitted John Armeni, LaBrae's 8th-year head coach responding to the query of who – Drake or Gibson – is the better player. "Haden Gibson is a courageous, great athlete. The kid runs hard. You know, he put that team on his back and he did a phenomenal job.
"I just told him when he was walkin' off (the field) that he's the toughest player I've coached against in eighteen years – and there's been some good ones. He's a great football player.
"But I think we've got a few good ones of our own, and they made some great plays, too," Armeni added. "But I can't say enough great things about (Gibson) and Coach (Randy) Clark."
Clark confided that there was never a question his club was playing for the win.
"That was a no-brainer. We couldn't stop 'em (Vikings), so we either had to win it there, or play nine overtimes," Clark quipped, relating, "It was a pass (for the potential winning 2-point PAT). We rolled (Gibson) out to the right. We had a slant, with a player goin' to the flat. We hooked the (defensive) end every time we ran to the ball to the right – except for that time there.
"It's a tough one to lose," Clark admitted.
In Week-2 of this season in Leavittsburg, Brookfield battered LaBrae, 35-7.
But Saturday night the Warriors were never ahead, trailing 21-7 after 12 minutes, 34-27 by the break, and 48-41 through 3 periods.
Twice the Warriors were able to forge deadlocks – at 27 with 4:19 remaining in the half on Gibson's 5-yard run and at 34 at the 9:53 juncture of the 3rd period. Those respites lasted just 15 and 11 seconds, respectively, however.
Drake's 87-yard kick return allowed LaBrae to assume that 7-point margin at intermission, then his 84-yarder –– which he momentarily muffed – vaulted the Vikes (6-2) to a 41-34 edge early in the 3rd quarter.
Gibson's second 5-yard TD run and the 5th of RJ Hall's 6 PAT kicks drew the Warriors even at 41 with 5:55 remaining in the 3rd.
But the Vikings's vindication continued on their ensuing series as Stephens sprinted around left end with 74 seconds left in the quarter. The 7th of Jacob McCartney's 8 conversion kicks launched LaBrae to a 48-41 lead entering the final frame.
Stephens, a junior classmate of Drake's, rushed for 95 yards, including a quartet of TDs (5, 11, 5 and 14 yards) and completed 5 of 9 pass attempts for 69 yards. His 43-yarder to Drake along the sideline with 2:10 remaining and McCartney's kick lifted LaBrae to a 55-48 lead.
To Armeni's point, Drake, Stephens, Hemberger, et al, were bolstered by the 3rd member of LaBrae's troika of junior standouts, tailback Devin Carter.
Already the program's career rushing leader (2,584, unofficially, including 685 this season, Carter carried 21 times for 174 yards, including a 39-yard 1st-frame scoring sprint.
While Wickliffe, a past playoff opponent for LaBrae (2016, 2018), according to Armeni, is the Vikings' next playoff opponent, Brookfield will re-boot and return to its remaining regular-season schedule. The Warriors will travel to Champion, then meet Crestview in hopes of winning the Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference Gray Tier Division championship.
"It's hard to explain. We're still the only undefeated team in the league," Clark commented regarding the quirky, COVID-19 schedule. "We've gotta win these last two to get a part of a crown, at least."
In addition to Teandre Craig (15 carries, 75 yards, including a 26-yard 1st-quarter TD run), Jones and Donovan Pawlowski (52 total yards even split between 3 carries and 3 receptions) Brookfield (5-2) will bank on Gibson.
"He's one tough cookie. He's unbelievably tough. He's a leader. He wants the ball," an admiring Clark praised. "He wants the ball in those situations, and he rose to the top. We just fell one play short."
OHSAA DIVISION VI PLAYOFFS
LaBRAE 21 13 14 7 55
BROOKFIELD 7 20 14 13 54
L — Stephens, 5 run (McCartney kick)
L — Carter, 39 run (McCartney kick)
B — Craig, 26 run (Hall kick)
L — Stephens, 11 run (McCartney kick)
B — Gibson, 4 run (Hall kick)
L — Stephens, 5 run (kick failed)
B — Gibson, 66 run (kick failed)
B — Gibson, 5 run (Hall kick)
L — Drake, 87 kickoff return (McCartney kick)
B — Jones, 32 pass from Gibson (Hall kick)
L — Drake, 84 kickoff return (McCartney kick)
B — Gibson, 5 run (Hall kick)
L — Stephens, 14 run (McCartney kick)
B — Gibson, 8 run (Hall kick)
L — Drake, 43 pass from Stephens (McCartney kick)
B — Gibson, 3 run (run failed)
18 First downs 28
273 Rushing yards 449
69 Passing yards 65
9-5-0 Att-comp-int 9-5-1
342 Total yards 514
1-0 Fumbles-lost 2-0
2-19 Penalties-yards lost 5-35
Rushing: LaBRAE — Carter 21-174, Stephens 13-95, Drake 2-4; BROOKFIELD — Gibson 41-355, Craig 15-75, Don. Pawlowski 3-26.
Passing: LaBRAE — Stephens 9-5-0, 69; BROOKFIELD — Gibson 9-5-1, 65.
Receiving: LaBRAE — Drake 3-51, Carter 2-18; BROOKFIELD — Don. Pawlowski 3-26, Jones 1-32, Dav. Pawlowski 1-7.