NORWALK - For a moment - a single, rain-soaked moment - it appeared Ryan Lynch had nowhere to go.
The Columbian running back went around the right corner, and it looked like he was going to run into a number of Norwalk defenders.
"The whole time we've been running our outside runs, I've been patient, patient, slowing down watching the blocks," Lynch said of his fourth-quarter run with the Tornadoes down, 20-17. "And then I just saw the hole, hit it."
Meanwhile, TC offensive lineman Nevin Lantz got off his block and blocked another Trucker, allowing Lynch to complete the 11-yard touchdown run, the deciding score in Columbian's 24-20 win.
Lynch gave credit to Lantz for that score, and his offensive line was excellent for much of the evening. But Lynch also was worthy of praise. He ran 33 times Friday night, helped force a key fumble late in the fourth quarter, and picked up a pair of third downs on pass completions from quarterback Stone Simmons.
Lynch ended the day with 124 rushing yards.
"He's a hard-nosed, tough kid," Columbian coach Brian Colatruglio said. "We're asking him to be our leader on defense [at linebacker] and offense, and he was wore out there in the middle of the game a little bit, and he came in in the fourth quarter and closed the door for us."
That door was wide open for Norwalk until the final two minutes; the Truckers were in search of their first home win over the Tornadoes since the Jimmy Carter administration, and it looked several times as if they would get it.
The Truckers came out fast, needing all of two plays to race 60 yards and score. Jordan Johnson outran the Tornadoes (3-1, 1-0 Northern Ohio League) on the left side for a 48-yard touchdown, and - after a Columbian punt - went up 14-0 after a three-play, 57-yard drive that was capped by a 7-yard Breck Turner jaunt with 9:05 left in the first quarter.
"You just can't simulate how fast (Norwalk is) in practice," Colatruglio said. "We just weren't ready to play at that speed. We looked like a JV team. We weren't moving, and they're really fast."
But after the early eruption, the Columbian defense yielded only a third quarter touchdown.
"We didn't make a ton of adjustments; we tweaked our front a little bit," Colatruglio said. "We did some things, bringing people off the edge, but for the most part, we just sped up and started tackling people."
Norwalk (3-1, 0-1) coach Chris MacFarland, a Columbian graduate, said it was simple.
"(Columbian) just played harder," he said. "We stung them early, and they just came hard and played at the level we know they can play."
Still, Columbian was staring at a 14-0 deficit until Russ Yeast began what became a breakout performance.
Early in the second quarter, Columbian forced a Norwalk punt and got the ball at its own 20. On first down, Simmons hit Yeast, who was wide open over the middle. Yeast outran the Trucker defenders to the end zone, and TC trailed 14-7.
A little more than three minutes later, Columbian had the ball again, this time at the Norwalk 39. Simmons handed the ball to Yeast, who swept right and maneuvered down the sideline for another touchdown, and the game was tied at 14.
By the time the half was over, Yeast had two catches for 97 yards, and five runs for 49. He hurt himself just before the break and didn't play in the second half.
"He got us going in the first half," Colatruglio said. "Two huge plays."
Each team had a chance to take the lead just before the half. Simmons played his best game so far this season, throwing for 178 yards. But he made his lone mistake with Columbian at the Norwalk 4 with less than a minute left in the half. On second down, the quarterback threw a pass toward the left corner of the end zone, but defensive back Matt Davidson read it, picked it off and ran it back 28 yards.
After two plays moved the Truckers to the Columbian 35 with 5 seconds left, Johnson lofted a perfect pass to the end zone to an open Joseph Hinckley, but the Norwalk receiver was unable to come up with it, and the teams went to the half tied.
The teams traded leads in the third quarter. Columbian kicker Spencer Pauley connected on a 23-yard field goal to put TC up 17-14 with 7:45 left, but the Truckers responded when Johnson threw a 49-yard pass to Grant Hull for another TD. The extra point was missed, but Norwalk held a 20-17 edge into the fourth quarter.
The Truckers had a few chances to extend their lead, but Hinckley lost a fumble in TC territory, then, in one of the most crucial plays of the game, Trucker punter Griffin Rinner had trouble with a low snap from his own end zone and tried to run for a first down. He was tackled at the TC 11.
A play later, Lynch scored his touchdown with 5:49 left in regulation.
"The difference in the game was, they put the ball on the ground, and we finished a drive there," Colatruglio said.
Norwalk had one last shot. After forcing a TC punt, Norwalk moved the ball to the Columbian 45 with about two minutes left.
Johnson then found Garret MacFarland inside the 35. MacFarland caught the ball, but as he moved toward the 30, was hit by Lynch and TC's Isiah Moore and the ball popped out. Nate Hoyda recovered.
Lynch said the fumble was aided by something neither team can control.
"The rain helped us out a bunch," Lynch said. "If it wasn't for the rain, I don't know if they would have fumbled. So, thank God, I guess."
Lynch then carried the ball a few times for a first down, effectively ending the game.
It only was appropriate.