DEFIANCE — It was evident Liberty Center was eager to prove they were much better than the 41-7 loss suffered at Archbold on Sept. 17 Saturday night in the Division VI, Region 22 semifinal played at Defiance High School. They did that and much more, leading wire-to-wire and when Archbold fought back to tie it at 35 with 14 straight points in a span two minutes, the Tigers drove down for a game-winning field goal by Carly Roth in the closing seconds, earning the 38-35 win.
Archbold ends the season at 12-1 while Liberty Center improves to 11-2 and moves on for a matchup with Carey (12-1) this Saturday.
“I don’t know that it motivated us any more than when you’re in a playoff game, you better be motivated. But it certainly woke us up and made us realize that, you can’t just show up and win games. Nobody’s gonna give us anything. If we want something, we got to go out and earn it,” said LC Coach Casey Mohler on how the regular season loss to Archbold factored into this performance.
Archbold Coach David Dominique admitted it was a different Tiger team than the one they faced back in week five.
“They had a great game plan. And just physicality. You could tell they really upped it (their physicality). They were ready to go tonight,” Dominique said of the Tigers. “They got us down early. But I’ll tell you what, our guys never quit. I mean, we were down 14 points with six minutes left, we go down and tie it up and then they kick that field goal right at the end. I just told our guys, ‘you have nothing to hang your head about. You lost to a very good football team and at the end of the day, they did a lot for our program this year that a lot of people didn’t think they could do.’ After losing the senior class we did, these guys stepped up and made plays.”
LC took advantage of a failed onside kick attempt by the Blue Streaks to go back up by 14 (35-21) with 6:32 remaining. They kept the drive alive with a fourth down conversion, then Teejay Moore broke loose for a 37-yard rushing score on second-and-13.
But the Streaks were not done. A 29-yard connection from DJ Newman to Hunter Cullen-Lemley set them up inside Tiger territory at the 34-yard line.
They then got first downs from Gavin Bailey on a reception and another by way of a 10-yard Newman scamper. Bailey would haul in a fade route from 14 yards away for a Blue Streak touchdown, getting the Streaks within 35-28 at the 4:37 mark.
Archbold was successful on its next onside attempt, giving them the ball back. They cashed in almost immediately — following a penalty — as Newman found Bailey again up the right side and he galloped 52 yards to paydirt. Krayton Kern’s point after tied the score only 11 seconds after pulling within seven.
The Tigers, who were able to move the ball all night against the Streaks, did so again on their final possession. They picked up a pair of third down conversions to keep the drive going.
Relying on the legs of Moore who had a run of 22 yards on the drive, LC was able to work the ball down to the Blue Streak 10 and into field goal range with just 3.6 ticks left. After an Archbold timeout, Roth set up for approximately a 27-yard field goal and she split the uprights, sending the Tigers to the regional final and the Streaks home.
“That’s pretty awesome for her,” admitted Mohler. “Our team really believes in her, and she has confidence in herself because she has worked extremely hard to put herself in position to make those kicks. And our guys have complete confidence in her to do that.”
“It’s heartbreaking none the less. But we told our guys, ‘never give in, never quit.’ And they didn’t. It stinks to end (the game) like that, but you know, hats off to those guys. They deserved to win tonight. Hopefully they can keep moving on in the playoffs,” said Dominique.
Liberty got out to a fast start by going ahead 14-0 in the first seven plus minutes of the game. Archbold had it first, but turned it over on downs in their own territory.
That led to Matthew Orr’s six yard rushing TD and Roth’s extra point made it 7-0 4:03 into the game.
Archbold’s next possession also went nowhere, plus a sack of Newman pushed them back inside their own 10-yard line, setting up the Tigers with good field position following the punt.
“We had a lot of miscues early on. But you know what, they (Liberty Center) put very good pressure on us. Made it tough on us as a whole. It’s one of those things where, I will look back on the film and see what we did wrong. But, at the end of the day, I’m very proud of our guys. They have nothing to hang their heads about.They had a great season,” said the Blue Streak mentor.
Starting with the ball near midfield, the Tigers marched down the field behind the running of Orr, Moore, quarterback Zane Zeiter, and Trent Kruse who came in to spell Orr who got dinged up. Getting the score was Zeiter who ran it in from eight yards out to make it a 14-0 Tiger lead with 2:20 left in the opening quarter.
“They were just gashing us inside,” Dominique said of the LC rushing attack. “We couldn’t find an answer for it. Tried to find different d-linemen to slow it down, we just couldn’t do it. They are well-coached and we knew that coming in. Just very physical as a whole. The better team won tonight.”
The Streaks did get on the scoreboard just over a minute later. Bailey caught a short pass then eluded multiple potential tacklers as he raced 53 yards for a score, trimming the deficit at 14-7 with 1:13 left in the quarter.
The two teams traded scores in the second quarter.
Liberty put themselves in position after a 34-yard run from Kruse. The 6-0, 160-pound sophomore did a nice job in relief of the injured Orr.
“The bottom line is, if somebody goes down, somebody else has to step up,” stated Mohler. “We expected him (Kruse) to come in and do his job and that’s what he did. He’s a tough kid that’s been chomping at the bit all year. Has gotten better and better each week. If we need him to play, he can play.”
LC found the end zone on fourth-and-goal at the seven as Zeiter hit Evan Conrad in the right corner with a defender draped all over him.
Archbold drove 70 yards on its ensuing possession, culminating with a six yard rushing score by Carson Dominique to reduce the margin to 21-14 with 2:20 before half.
After halftime, TDs by Zeiter (one-yard rush) for LC and Archbold’s Karter Behnfeldt (44-yard reception) put the score at 28-21 in the early portion of the fourth quarter.
The Tigers outgained the Streaks 361-314 with a 309-49 edge on the ground. Archbold held the advantage through the air, 265-52.
For LC, Moore carried the ball 22 times for 177 yards and a score. Also, Kruse had 79 yards on 14 attempts, Zeiter 51 yards on 16 carries and two scores, and Orr six carries for 29 yards and a score.
Newman completed 12 of 18 for 265 yards and four TDs, while also adding 47 yards on the ground. Bailey was his top target, finishing with seven catches for 163 yards and three TDs.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010.