LIBERTY CENTER — Last year, Patrick Henry ended Liberty Center’s quest for a Northwest Ohio Athletic league title with a 34-19 win.
Not this time.
The Tigers ran for 232 yards, throwing for 144 more as LC rolled to a 35-13 win over its archrivals Friday night at Rex Lingruen Stadium.
“I thought our kids responded really well,” Liberty Center coach Casey Mohler said. “After last week, I think we were a little bit shocked we lost that game, but that was because we didn’t take care of business. We said we had to rise to the occasion this week.”
Max Phillips ran for 115 yards and one touchdown, a 59-yard run that put the game out of reach at 35-13 with 4:21 left in the fourth quarter, to lead the Tigers. Zach Bowers added 99 yards on 19 touches.
“I did not expect them to run the ball that well on us tonight,” Patrick Henry coach Bill Inselmann said. “It’s been a long, long time since Liberty Center ran the ball that well against us.”
PH was led by senior quarterback TJ Rhamy, who ran 21 times for 66 yards and one score, completing eight of 19 passes for 99 yards and another touchdown.
The Patriots were haunted by injuries, as star senior wideout Kolton Holloway sat and fellow star senior Wil Morrow did not play after halftime.
LC took the lead for good on the third play of the game, as junior quarterback Camden Krugh found senior Aaron Shafer, who broke a tackle and took it 66 yards to the house.
“Any time you can score on the third play, it’s big,” Mohler said. “Right there, we were trying to get the first down, we got the catch and slipped the tackle and were able to get into the end zone. That was definitely a momentum-taker for us.”
Patrick Henry responded with 6:10 left in the first, taking advantage of a muffed punt when Rhamy hit junior Clayton Feehan on the out route in the end zone. The Patriots missed the extra-point attempt to make the score 7-6.
The score stayed the same until the second quarter, when Maguire Vollmar recovered a Rhamy fumble at the Liberty Center 38-yard line, setting up a 12-play, 62-yard drive, capped by a nine-yard pass from Krugh to Trent Murdock to push the Tigers’ lead to 14-6 with 3:31 left in the half.
LC got the ball back on another PH turnover on the next drive, when Trey Patterson jumped in front of a deep pass down the sideline, holding the Patriots off the board before the break and giving the Tigers an eight-point lead into the break.
PH received the second half kick-off, but another interception from the Liberty Center secondary, this time from Shafer, put the ball back in the Tigers’ hands at the PH 30.
The Tigers drove the ball to a first-and-goal from the PH 3, but pressure from Garrett Schwiebert forced Krugh to throw into the arms of Noah Kistner for the interception, giving PH the ball at its own 5.
LC forced a three-and-out, scoring on the ensuing six-play, 41-yard drive, capped by another Krugh pass to Murdock to push the Tigers’ lead to 21-6 with 4:24 left in the third quarter.
After forcing a turnover on downs, Liberty Center took over from the Patriots’ 45, using eight plays to march 45 yards, setting up an eight-yard quarterback sneak up the middle for a rushing touchdown from Krugh to put LC up 28-6 with 8:44 left in the game.
Patrick Henry, desperate to keep its league-title hopes alive, churned out its best drive of the night, going 10 plays for 72 yards. Rhamy ran it in from three yards out to pull the Patriots within 28-13 with 4:58 remaining after being set up by a 35-yard pass to Timmy Johnson.
On the first play after a holding penalty on the ensuing LC drive, Phillips cut up the gut for his 59-yard, win-sealing touchdown that sent the home crowd into a frenzy.
The Patriots drove from their 30 to the LC 37, but a turnover on downs gave the ball back to LC with 14 seconds left, leaving the Tigers to kneel to close out the game.
“It’s a really, really big win,” Vollmar said. “It sets us up to possibly host a playoff game in Week 11, and that’s really big coming back here and playing our last game. We didn’t want this to be our last game at home, so we wanted to come out and earn a Week 11 game.”
Patrick Henry falls to 6-3, 3-3 in NWOAL play, with the loss. The Patriots host Delta Friday.
“We know that the teams we’re playing are going to make us battle-tested,” Inselmann said. “We’ve got to get healthy. We’re not going to get as good as a draw now, and that’s going to make it tougher, too, but the bottom line is we have got to get ready for the playoffs.”
Liberty Center shakes off its first loss of the year to improve to 8-1, 5-1 in NWOAL action, and can clinch a share of the league title next week with a win at Evergreen.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Mohler said. “We have to make sure that we take care of business. Nobody is going to give it to us. We’ve got to go out and take it. Anybody that thinks that we are just going to walk in there and just be a league champ is mistaken, because that’s not how it works. Evergreen is too good of a program that is too well coached for us to just show up.”