LIBERTY CENTER — Liberty Center amassed nearly 400 yards on the ground in Thursday’s Northwest Ohio Athletic League opener against Wauseon.
But no carry was as big as the 20-yard scamper from Teejay Moore.
Moore, who finished with a team-high 145 rushing yards, opened the overtime period by bouncing a run to the outside down the left sideline and past the Indians’ defense for a touchdown. The Tigers’ defense then forced four consecutive incompletions on the ensuing drive to hang on for a 34-28 NWOAL win at Rex Lingruen Stadium.
“When you get adversity you have to overcome it,” Liberty Center coach Casey Mohler said. “We made one more play, which is pretty fortunate for us.”
Liberty Center improved to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the NWOAL. Wauseon fell to 2-2, 0-1.
Wauseon had its own opportunity from the 20-yard line in overtime. Hampered by a short field, its explosive offense was not afforded the same open field that led to so many game-breaking plays.
Instead, McLeod had back-to-back incompletions along the right side before the Tigers’ Evan Conrad got his hand on a mid-screen to force a fourth down. The final pass was off target and fell in the end zone.
“Our line didn’t give us enough time in some of those plays. They put some pressure on when we had it,” Wauseon coach Shawn Moore said. “We had the screen ... he barely got his hand on it. That was a big play right there because I thought the middle screen was going to be a big play for us. And again, we just didn’t have the space to make some of the checks that we had been making.”
The Tigers did not trail until the fourth quarter when Wauseon sophomore Elijah McLeod threw his third touchdown on a 67-yard heave to Sam Smith for a 28-21 lead.
Liberty Center responded with a 12-play drive capped by a perfectly-timed play-action rollout pass from Zane Zeiter to a wide open Camren Foster in the right corner of the end zone.
“They were really crowding the line of scrimmage and it was making it tough for us to run. So we thought we had to do something to loosen them up and we felt like we could get behind them a little bit there and we did,” Mohler said.
Zeiter completed 4 of 7 passes for 68 yards and added 90 yards rushing on 15 carries.
The Tigers forced a three-and-out but fumbled on their next possession with 4:35 to play in regulation.
Foster reeled in an interception on the second play of Wauseon’s ensuing drive, but the play was nullified due to a roughing the passer penalty. However, Conrad swarmed McLeod for an 11-yard loss to force a punt with 3:14 to play.
Liberty Center opened the game much like it did the overtime period.
Matthew Orr, who led LC with 23 carries and added 115 yards rushing, capped the opening, 10-play drive with a five-yard scoring run. Orr scored again in the first quarter on a two-yard plunge and Moore finished the first half with a 19-yard score down the left sideline.
Riley Chapa, a junior defensive back for the Tigers, jumped a pass for an interception on the ensuing possession to give LC the ball back with 1:27 to play in the first half. Orr busted a 22-yard run to bring LC inside the five, but two plays later the Tigers were stuffed inside the one-yard line.
With eight seconds remaining, LC was out of timeouts and could not get another play called en route to a missed opportunity but a 21-13 halftime lead.
“We should’ve had a score right before half and that was one where it really almost came back to bite us in the butt,” Mohler said. “Because if you lose this game and you get stopped at the one-yard line right before half, it was going to hurt. But our guys were resilient tonight.
“Part of that is poor management by me. I knew we didn’t have a timeout, (the scoreboard) said we had one. I was really just hoping to get it in on the sneak and not have to have another play. We have to execute in that situation from the one-yard line.”
Wauseon, which nearly doubled up LC a year ago, did not go quietly.
Overwhelmed early in the first half, the Indians responded with 94-yard scoring strike late in the second quarter. McLeod found Jude Armstrong — his favorite target of the night — over the top down the middle of the field to bring them within 21-13 before halftime.
McLeod finished with 320 yards and three touchdowns on 20 of 38 passing, while Armstrong hauled in a game-high nine receptions for 144 yards and a score. Sam Smith added 104 yards and a TD on three catches.
“It’s going to be really tough for a team to stop them for 48 minutes. They have explosive players and we let them get behind us a couple times and it cost us,” Mohler said.