In a game that was decided on a forced fumble at the 1 yard line in the final moments, it was the big play via the arm of Bearcats quarterback Cade Crosby early in the contest that proved to be the difference.
Long Beach (2-1) held off a determined Vancleave rally for a 38-35 road win Friday night with Crosby completing 10 of 16 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns.
All of Long Beach’s touchdowns came from long distance with the shortest being a 33-yard dash in the third quarter by senior running back Dennis Andrews, who played his first game of the season after returning from injury. He finished with seven carries for 99 yards and two touchdowns.
Crosby was at his best for much of Friday night’s game, stiff-arming defenders, tossing deep touchdown passes and scrambling for first downs.
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The 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior has drawn the interest of both Division I football and baseball programs in recent months. It remains to be seen which sport the left-handed swinging second baseman will play on the next level, but he has shown significant progress as a quarterback.
“He’s up there with the best. That kid is special,” Long Beach coach Phillip Pigott said. “He’s got intangibles that can’t be coached. It won’t be long before a lot of people take notice. He’s a kid where if the play is not there, he makes it a play. He’s learning to play within the new offense, not push it in moments where he was prior to this.”
Crosby recently picked up his first Division I scholarship offer from Tennessee-Martin. He visited Tulane last week and hopes to make a visit to Memphis.
At the moment, Crosby is pitching himself to colleges as a two-sport guy.
“It’s tough, but I’m trying,” he said.
Crosby, who also ran seven times for 46 yards, admits that he has more fun on a football field.
He’s shown more patience this season, completing 67 percent of his passes for 753 yards and 10 touchdowns and one interception through three games.
“I’ve definitely made progress in the pocket,” Crosby said. “I’m not rolling out as much whenever I feel pressure.
“I try to find Dennis and Kobe. Those two are very good (in the passing game). It’s just a good 11 guys.”
In the second half, Vancleave played improved defense, used the onside kick effectively and managed to hold onto the ball on offense to keep Crosby and the Long Beach offense off the field for much of the final two quarters.
Crosby threw only one pass in the second half — a 50-yard touchdown toss to Cook on the first offensive play in the third quarter for the Bearcats.
Long Beach had only 11 snaps on offense in the second half, but the ball still managed to bounce their way as the game appeared to be slipping away.
Vancleave marched 49 yards, running the ball 12 consecutive times to push the ball inside the Long Beach 5 with about 40 seconds left in the game.
On first and goal at the Long Beach 4, Vancleave quarterback Roy Johnson handed the ball off to C.J. Johnson as he had 28 times before Friday night.
The senior running back worked through the middle of the Long Beach defense and neared the goal line before losing control of the ball at the Bearcats’ 1. It was sophomore defensive back D’lijah Robinson who forced the ball free.
Long Beach managed to run the time off the clock for the victory in front of a stunned Vancleave crowd.
The game lasted 3 hours and 5 minutes.
“We told (the defense) this whole week about the challenge they’ve got with that running game of Vancleave,” Pigott said. “We knew those were physical kids and that they were going to come out and give us everything they had.
“We’ve got to bend, but not break. You saw that right there. That’s a mark in a season that you learn from and you figure out that you don’t have a breaking point.”
For C.J. Johnson, it was a brutal end to what was a career game statistically. He rushed 29 times for 203 yards and three touchdowns — runs of 1, 29 and 48 yards.
“He’s still our guy. He knows that and I’ve told him that,” Vancleave coach Lavon Capers said. “We wouldn’t have been there without him. He’s a great player. He just had tough luck there.”