LIBERTY CENTER – Wauseon has not played their best football the last three games since they took down Division VI power Tinora, 28-14, at home on Sept. 11. However, they may have turned a corner on Friday night when they outscored Liberty Center 21-7 in the second half for a 28-7 win.
The loss was the Tigers’ first in NWOAL play, while the Indians improved to 3-1 in the league.
“That was a big one, against a really good football team,” said a jubilant Wauseon head coach Travis Cooper after the game. “Our guys have been sleepwalking the last couple weeks. I didn’t know if we had it in us anymore. And tonight, that was the most collective game that we’ve had in the last couple years. In all phases.”
Wauseon dented the scoreboard first late in the second quarter after starting from the Liberty Center 41 thanks to a punt block from Jac Flory.
On a third-and-six from the 37 yard line, Wauseon quarterback J.J. Kauffman hit Danny Hench on a screen pass who broke a tackle near the 20 and rambled on into the end zone to make it 7-0 with three minutes until halftime.
“I think our offense woke up tonight,” said Cooper. “We made some big plays and got some points on the board when we needed to.”
The score remained the same into the third quarter as both offenses played the field position game.
That was until the Tigers took control with about six minutes left in the third. LC got a 16 yard completion from QB Brooks Hinton to Christian Chambers, then runs of five and 11 yards for running back Zack Carpenter, followed by a carry of six yards by Hinton to put the ball at the Wauseon 14.
Then it was three straight carries by Carpenter, the third was a two yard TD run, which tied the game, 7-7, at the 3:15 mark of the third.
The Indians responded quickly as they began their next drive with the ball at their own 42 thanks to a nice return by Everett Bueter.
After advancing into Tiger territory at the 40, Kauffman found Ty Leininger open down the sideline for 39 yards on a second-and-four play. Flory punched in from a yard out on first and goal to put the Indians back in front, 14-7, with 1:13 to go in the third.
“Finally, our offense was able to pick our defense up. The last couple weeks our defense has been picking up our offense,” said Cooper of his team’s response to LC tying the game. “I was pleased to see that and really happy for our guys.”
Flory also helped to seal the game for the Indians in the fourth quarter, picking off Hinton’s screen pass and returning it 40 yards down to the LC three.
“He is a tough nut,” said Cooper of Flory. “There is a reason why he’s been a starter for us since he was a freshman. He was a man possessed tonight.”
Kauffman kept the ball for a TD on the first play of the drive to put his team up by two touchdowns with 6:04 left in the game.
Brendan Wilson added another score for Wauseon with 1:25 remaining, running it in from 14 yards out to equal the final tally.
Kauffman threw for 91 yards and a TD, while also running for 38 yards and a score. Wilson carried eight times for 75 yards and that fourth quarter score.
Carpenter carried the load for the Tigers, rushing it 34 times for 155 yards and Liberty Center’s lone score.
Wauseon (6-1, 3-1 NWOAL) now hosts Swanton this week as the Bulldogs sit alone atop the league race at 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the NWOAL.
Max Householder can be reached at 419-335-2010