Liberty Center controlled the line of scrimmage, dominated field position and ultimately won the game against Napoleon, defeating the Wildcats 26-7 at Buckenmeyer Stadium Friday night.
It was the fourth-straight win for the Tigers over Napoleon — the longest winning streak for Liberty Center in the series.
“We just ask the kids to trust the game plan and be ready to play,” said Liberty Center coach Casey Mohler, who is 3-0 against the Wildcats. “The kids have to trust what the game plan is and that plan hasn’t changed in 35 years since Rex Lingruen started coaching here.”
Liberty Center dominated the line of scrimmage, rushing for 238 yards and three touchdowns, while holding Napoleon to 89 yards on the ground. Seventeen of the Wildcats’ 29 rushing plays were for 2 yards or less, including six for negative yards.
Junior Max Phillips had a career night, rushing for 172 yards on 14 carries and three TDs (68, 44 and 31 yards).
“He ran hard,” said Mohler. “He is a young back and still getting better. He needs to read his blocks better, but he runs hard and when you run hard good things happen.”
“The blocking was awesome,” said Phillips. “I had great blocking by my line and the guys downfield ... everyone blocked amazing.
“This game means a lot,” added Phillips. “We love beating Napoleon.”
After a scoreless first quarter, which had Liberty Center turn over the ball on downs at the Napoleon 1 and the Wildcats had a 14-play drive that managed to get them to midfield, Phillips scored from 68 yards on the first play of the second quarter.
Napoleon fumbled the ensuing kick-off, with LC kicker Asa Killam recovering the football. A personal foul penalty on the Cats put the ball at the 22. The Tigers used a little trickery and halfback Alex Righi passed to a wide open Trent Murdock for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
The Tigers led 12-0 and appeared headed to halftime with that lead, but a 29-yard pass from Andrew Warncke to Donovan Malone put the Cats deep in LC territory with a minute remaining in the half.
After a loss, Warncke hit Tanner Rubenstein over the middle of the field for a 14-yard gain. Rubenstein fumbled the ball, which was caught in midair by Jarrett Gerdeman, who ran in for a 23-yard touchdown to cut Liberty Center’s lead to 12-7 at intermission.
After a defensive stop, Liberty Center took over at its own 3 after a 56-yard punt by Josh Mack. The Tigers drove to midfield in eight plays and on second down, Phillips busted free for a 44-yard touchdown.
“That was a big momentum shift,” said Napoleon coach Tory Strock. “It was 12-7 and we pinned them at their 3. At that time we figured it was going to be that type of back-and-forth game. Then they go 97 yards and now we are down 19-7 and we have to start throwing the ball and doing things we don’t want to do. That was a huge point in the game.”
Phillips ran for a 31-yard score early in the fourth quarter to push the lead to 26-7.
Napoleon had a final gasp remaining, but after driving deep in LC territory in 13 plays, Warncke’s pass from the 25 was intercepted by Conner Keller in the end zone to seal the Tigers’ win.
“This was such a game of big plays by them,” said Strock. “Give them credit for that. When it was 6-0 and they threw the halfback pass, that is a case of you got to make plays.”
“I thought it was a stalemate early,” said Mohler. “We were coming off the ball and so were they. We just had to keep coming off the ball and keep moving the football.
“All we talked about at halftime was fundamentals and keep doing what we were doing,” added Mohler. “It’s all about trusting that game plan.”
Liberty Center (2-0) welcomes Otsego for its home opener Friday, while Napoleon (1-1) attempts to bounce back against Wauseon at home Friday.
LC 0 12 7 7 — 26
Nap 0 7 0 0 — 7
First downs 8 9
Rushes/yards 33/238 29/89
Passes/comp 5/6 13/19
Passing yards 82 97
Had intercepted 0 1
Fumbles/lost 0/0 1/1
Penalties/yards 4/34 3/31
LC — Phillips 68-yard run (kick failed)
LC — Righi 22-yard pass to Murdock (pass failed)
Nap — Gerdeman 23-yard fumble recovery (Schumm kick)
LC — Phillips 44-yard run (Killam kick)
LC — Phillips 31-yard run (Killam kick)