NAPOLEON – It was once again a high-scoring affair, but this time Archbold flipped the script on Liberty Center, winning the battle between the two Northwest Ohio Athletic League co-champions, 31-30, in a Division VI, Region 23 regional semifinal at Charles Buckenmeyer Stadium in Napoleon Friday night.
The Blue Streaks (11-1) held on thanks to a failed two-point conversion by Liberty Center (10-2) in the final minute.
“I don’t think we played a great half of football that first half,” said Archbold coach David Dominique. “Made a couple adjustments on defense (at halftime). Our defense played (great) at the end of the game. So very proud of them. And our offense hung tough. We made some mistakes, but at the end of the game, we made plays when it counted.”
With over a month to stew on their only loss of the season back on Oct 4 – a 39-36 defeat at the hands of the Tigers – this time it was Archbold on the winning side of another closely-contested matchup.
“All year long our league’s been just tough. From top to bottom, every week you need to prepare. This team’s no different right here. They (Liberty Center) played their hearts out tonight, unfortunately a team has to go home. But very proud of our guys,” said Dominique.
“This is kind of what we expected,” said Liberty Center coach Casey Mohler. “It was a hard-fought game. We knew it was gonna be back and forth. It was gonna be a matter of who could make plays. I think Archbold made one more play than what we did.”
With both teams trading blows in the first half, Archbold finally gained the upperhand when they scored 10 straight points in the fourth quarter.
Prior to that, LC turned an interception into three points on a 22-yard field goal by Asa Killam for a 24-21 lead with just under 10 minutes remaining.
Archbold was forced into a fourth-and-8 at the midfield stripe, when quarterback DJ Newman did a nice job looking off the safety, turning back to his main target in Brandon Taylor who got free up the left sideline and hauled it in for a go-ahead touchdown at the 8:18 mark. Devin Witte’s extra point gave the Streaks a 28-24 lead.
“That was intended,” said Dominique on if Taylor was Newman’s number one read on the play. “Our o-line gave us plenty of time and DJ really looked that safety off. He (the safety) went flying to the other side. He (Newman) just put it on the money.”
Each team had two turnovers on the night, but both of Liberty Center’s resulted in Archbold touchdowns.
Backed up inside their own 15-yard line, the Tigers coughed it up on the first play of the drive and the Streaks made the recovery at the 10-yard line. This led to a 23-yard field goal from Witte, extending the Blue Streak lead to 31-24 with 6:40 left.
Each team came up empty on their next two drives but Liberty Center was given one more chance with under three minutes to go.
Junior quarterback Camden Krugh worked the hurry-up offense to perfection, and on third-and-7 at the Archbold 25 he connected with Connor Keller up the left side who bobbled the ball but maintained possession for the TD.
“This is what these guys are conditioned to do,” said Mohler of the final drive. “There was no panic. They knew what to do and that’s a credit to them. They don’t know anything other than believe what the coach tells them. And they believed. And they executed.
“We executed the two-minute drill just how you want.”
Time was short with only 33 seconds left, and instead of kicking the extra point, LC opted for the win in regulation. They tried a double reverse pass, or what some might refer to as the “Philly Special,” but wide receiver Aaron Shafer’s pass was knocked down by the Blue Streak defense.
It was a play Archbold was familiar with, and ready for in that situation.
“Our guys sniffed it out early,” said Dominique of the conversion attempt. “Hats off to the defense. We knew if they scored there, I would have went for two as well. At that time of the game, I would go for two. I’m just glad our guys knocked it down.”
It was the fourth single-digit win of the season for the Streaks. And they did it despite being outgained by LC, 430-342.
“It just shows the toughness and grit of our team,” said Dominique on his team being able to pull out close wins. “It hasn’t always been easy for us, but they just hang tough no matter what. I’m very proud of them. They know how to play 48 minutes of football.”
As previously mentioned, the first half was a bit of a seesaw event. Each team scored in the first quarter, LC on a 18-yard run from Zach Bowers and Archbold on a 20-yard catch by Antonio Cruz.
Twice in the second quarter the Streaks would bounce back from touchdown deficits.
The Tigers’ Trent Murdock made a diving catch for a 10-yard TD and 14-7 lead at the 8:43 mark of the quarter. However, a little over two minutes later Noah Gomez – who carried three times for 46 yards on the drive – punched it in from less than a yard away to knot the score at 14.
The Tigers recaptured the lead with a three yard run from Max Phillips with 2:57 left in the half.
Then, in a wild sequence, both the Streaks and Tigers turned the ball over on consecutive plays. Archbold had driven into LC territory, but Newman overthrew his receiver on a first down play and was intercepted by Shafer at the 20-yard line. But on the first snap of the Tigers’ possession, Phillips fumbled the ball and the Streaks jumped on it.
Archbold turned it into seven points on a 17-yard catch from Elijah Zimmerman, tying the game 21-21 at halftime.
Newman completed 19 of 27 passes for 195 yards, three TDs to two interceptions. Taylor caught six passes from Newman for 86 yards and a score, while Cruz caught eight for 61 and a score.
In the running game, Gomez finished with 108 yards on 15 carries and a TD.
Krugh completed 15 of 21 for LC with 217 yards and two TDs. Alex Righi made five catches for 94 yards. The Tigers’ ground game was led by Bowers at 138 yards on 16 carries and a score.
Archbold next gets Anna (11-1) this Friday in a regional final to be held at Lima Senior. The Rockets crushed Fairview 54-20 Friday night.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010