LIBERTY CENTER — Wauseon outscored Liberty Center 15-13 in the second half and overtime but with their backs against the wall, it was the Tigers who came through and earned the 34-28 win in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League opener Friday night at Rex Lingruen Stadium.
Liberty Center Coach Casey Mohler knows the significance of the win, and he said as much after the game. His Tigers are now 3-1 on the season and start 1-0 in league play.
Wauseon falls to 2-2 and 0-1 in the NWOAL.
“Our schedule is so tough. It’s like, every week is a huge game. You got to get them when you can. And so, just getting the win this week was big,” Mohler said.
Mohler’s stomach was probably turning in the second half as he saw his team’s halftime lead dissipate.
Especially since they missed out on a chance to add to their lead before half. At the Wauseon one yard line with time running out on the half, and with a timeout, the officials took too long to spot the ball after the previous play and Mohler was not able to use his timeout before the half ended.
The Indians were able to take advantage of the miscue out of the break.
After their first possession of the second half ended with an interception at the Liberty Center one, Jonas Tester was able to catch one and take it into the end zone on their second drive. He also added the two-point conversion as the Indians knotted the score at 21 with 3:18 left in the third.
Wauseon got it back near the end of the frame. Quarterback Elijah McLeod was sacked on the final play of the third quarter to set up a second-and-18 from their own 33-yard line to start the fourth.
But the Indians were able to hit the big play, McLeod finding Sam Smith up the right sideline who raced 67 yards to paydirt and giving them a 28-21 advantage nine seconds into the final stanza.
However, the Tigers answered right back. They marched 80 yards down the field in a drive that culminated with Zane Zeiter’s eight yard touchdown pass to Camren Foster, tying it once again at 28-28 at the 6:38 mark.
From there, neither team could put it in the end zone throughout the rest of regulation. LC had the best opportunity, but on a first down play from the Wauseon 13, Zeiter was drilled on a quarterback keeper and coughed it up to give the ball back to the Indians.
The Tigers wasted no time at all in overtime, as Teejay Moore ran around the left end 20 yards to paydirt on the first play of the extra session. The extra point missed, keeping the Indians within six at 34-28.
However, LC’s defense wouldn’t budge. On third-and-10 at the Tiger 20, it appeared as if Bryson Stump was open on a screen but the defender was able to knock it away. The fourth down attempt went to the end zone but was nowhere near its intended target.
“We were able to drive it down and put it in (in the third quarter). Getting the two-point conversion. Making another big play to go up on them. It was a back and forth match. Liberty Center’s a great team. They were able to make, again, one more play than we were tonight. Every time we play Liberty Center it’s just a dogfight and it comes down to the end. Coach Mohler’s a great coach and they’ve got a good team again,” said Wauseon Coach Shawn Moore of his team’s fight in the second half.
“Just feel really fortunate,” admitted Mohler. “We made one more play than what they did. It was an exciting game and kind of back and forth. I think we’re pretty fortunate to come out of here with a win. We made some mistakes and let some opportunities slip by that cost us and kind of put us in that situation. But our guys were resilient tonight.”
A big key for Wauseon in the second half was its defensive adjustments. They were much better at holding the LC ground game in check after halftime, enabling them to take the lead.
“We tried to change some things up. They were just running it all over us,” said Moore. “We just challenged our players, you know who’s gonna step up and be a man. Let’s not wait for tomorrow. We’ve got to do it right now.
“I thought all those guys did a great job in that third quarter. Being able to slow them down.”
In the first half, each team scored on lengthy possessions in the opening quarter.
The Tigers took the lead first (7-0) on a five yard run by Matthew Orr and Kyle Huffman’s extra point with 7:24 left.
Wauseon used up most of the rest of the first quarter on their possession. Keeping the drive alive was Smith, who on a fourth-and-22 at the LC 34, hauled in a pass from McLeod down to the five.
On a fourth-and-goal at the one, the Indians mishandled the snap and it appeared as though the Tigers would take over. But, the Tiger coaching staff was issued a sideline warning and after much deliberation by the officials, Wauseon was given another chance. They made due this time when McLeod snuck it in to tie the game with 1:51 remaining in the quarter.
Liberty Center scored on its second possession, again it was Orr who ran it in from two yards away for a 14-7 Tiger lead at the 8:14 mark of quarter two.
Wauseon was able to challenge LC down the field later in the period. Starting a possession backed up at their own five, McLeod found an open Jude Armstrong in what resulted in a 95-yard scoring strike. The point after attempt was blocked as the Tigers held onto a 14-13 edge with 4:26 left until halftime.
“Just taking what the defense is giving us,” said Moore of his offense being able to hit some big pass plays. “If they want to play off we’ll try and throw it short, and if they’re gonna come up, I think we can take some shots (down the field). We just got to get Elijah a little bit of time. There was a couple plays at the end where we just didn’t give him quite enough time. Weren’t able to get the ball off. It was unfortunate. So our line’s got to keep working.”
The Tigers’ final score of the half was similar to the one in overtime, with Teejay Moore running around the left end 19 yards to paydirt, putting them up 21-13.
Wauseon was intercepted on their final drive of the half.
LC outgained the Indians 422-239, including 355 yards on the ground. Moore racked up 139 yards on just 15 carries and two TDs, while Zeiter rushed for 98 yards on 16 carries and had a passing TD.
For Wauseon, McLeod hit on 15 of 31 passing for 268 yards, three TDs but tossed a pair of interceptions. Armstrong caught nine of those for 143 yards and a score. Smith had three receptions equaling 104 yards and a TD.
The Indians will host 0-4 Swanton this week for Homecoming.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010.