ARCHBOLD -- A pair of banners hanging from the Liberty Center stands said it all Friday night at Archbold High School: "Restoring the Roar" and "We don't Share #1."
For the first time since 2001 and the eighth time overall, the football tradition rich Henry County institution stands at the top of the NWOAL heap after claiming a 36-29 triumph at Archbold on Friday night.
The victory wrapped up an outright NWOAL title and meant not sharing the crown with rival Patrick Henry.
"It means everything," said senior captain Bryan Hefflinger. "Ever since day one of us getting together we knew that's what we wanted. We knew we were going to accomplish it, we worked hard for it, we silenced the doubters and we stood alone together. I've dreamt of it ever since I was a little kid. Leadership for sure (has been the key) and everybody following the right path . "
It was Hefflinger's right foot that went a long way in determining the outcome against the Blue Streaks. Clinging to a 34-29 advantage with just under 2:30 left in the game, LC (10-0, 8-0 NWOAL) faced a fouth-and-two at its own 47. Although LC head coach Rex Lingruen called one of his trademark fake punts on fourth down, Hefflinger was forced to boot the ball with the fake not open. Plan B worked out more than fine for the Tigers as Hefflinger sent the pigskin down to the Archbold two, pinning the Streaks (7-3, 5-3 NWOAL) deep in their own territory.
Along with giving his team a huge shot in the arm with the clutch 51-yard punt, Hefflinger settled the score on a season-long wager with his head coach.
"We were faking that," acknowledged Lingruen. "Bryan knows if it's not there then to go ahead and punt it. He made the right decision; it goes all the way down there and pins them deep. It's funny because we bet pizzas every week on him kicking the ball inside the five. He owes me 10,000 but I think we're going to be even after tonight."
Two plays later the Tigers got penetration up the middle and sacked Archbold QB Evan Wyse in the end zone for a safety and a 36-29 edge.
"Just try to get yardage to get us out and get us room to operate," said Archbold coach Bryan Miller. "When you're back there you're condensed and there are certain things you normally do but you don't want to do in that situation. Just trying to get out to get us some breathing room basically and we just didn't get it done."
"It was kind of a case of who was going to get the ball last and we hadn't scored defensively all year and that defensive score was probably the biggest of the year," said Lingruen. "It was an exciting football game. Both teams came to play and I thought both teams left it entirely on the field. We were fortunate to make some big plays when we had to and that's what we've been doing this year. We've had guys making plays when they had to."
Having used their allotment of timeouts on the previous LC possession, Archbold had to attempt an on-side kick with 1:44 to go. Sophomore fullback Sean Westhoven iced the game by jumping on the bounding on-side attempt to preserve LC's victory.
The teams matched scores the entire night with Archbold answering every Liberty Center score after the Tigers opened the scoring on a 16-yard Westhoven run 3:36 into the game.
The last 2:55 of the first half ended with a flurry of scores. LC quarterback Josh Drain broke a 7-7 stalemate with a 13-yard keeper around the right side to begin the furious finish to the half. Just 14 seconds later, Archbold's T.J. Gerken was celebrating in the end zone with his teammates after returning the ensuing kickoff 97 yards to paydirt.
After Archbold kicked off, LC's Anthony Righi found running room on the first play from scrimmage and went 71 yards to the end zone to give LC a 21-15 lead. But the Blue Streaks struck last in the first half with 19 seconds to go as Jay Miller hauled in a 17-yard scoring strike from Wyse for a 22-21 Archbold advantage.
Liberty's Zach Niner found the end zone on a 25-yard jaunt in the third stanza and Gerken responded with another Archbold score 1:19 later with 7:21 remaining in the quarter for a 29-27 lead. The fifth-ranked Tigers finally took the lead for good late in the third when Westhoven threw a halfback pass to Anthony Righi for a 21-yard touchdown and a 34-29 lead.
A five-turnover night crippled the Blue Streaks.
"You can't do that against really good football teams, that really hurt us," said Miller.
LC scored its first TD after Hefflinger intercepted a tipped ball on the opening possession of the game.
Drain also picked off a pass in his own end zone in the fourth quarter.
"We knew they were probably going to run a fade and we just went man-to-man," said Drain.
The Tigers will host a Division V Region 18 playoff game on Friday night against an opponent to be determined later today.
"This senior class is just fantastic and they just got the other kids behind them," said Lingruen. "The whole season is contributed to the seniors and the effort they've put in during the offseason and the entire season. I think there's only a few people here that thought we could do this and it started with the senior class and our captains."
First Downs 20 21
Rushing Yards 59-362 9-35
Passing Yards 57 415
Total Yards 419 450
Passing 4-7-0 34-50-3
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-2
Penalties 5-26 3-30
Lib. Center 7 14 13 2 - 36
Archbold 7 15 7 7 - 29
LC - Westhoven 16-run (Polman kick).
A - Young 22-pass from Wyse (Parsley kick).
LC - Drain 13-run (Polman kick).
A - Gerken 97-kickoff return (Wyse pass from Gerken).
LC _Righi 71-run (Polman kick).
A - Miller 25-pass from Wyse (Parsley kick).
LC - Niner 25-run (pass failed).
A - Gerken 26-pass from Wyse (Parsley kick).
LC - Righi 21-pass from Westhoven (Polman kick).
LC - Safety.
RUSHING: Liberty Center - Westhoven 33-146; Righi 7-112; Niner 4-45; Bais 12-39; Drain 2-20. Archbold - Wyse 5-18; Gerken 3-14; Rodriguez 3-3. PASSING: Liberty Center - Drain 3-6-0-36-0; Westhoven 1-1-0-21-1. Archbold - Wyse 34-50-3-415-3. RECEIVING: Liberty Center - Righi 2-30; Johnson 1-22; Bais 1-5. Archbold - Gerken 10-115; Schilt 7-73; Miller 5-56; Wyse 5-39; Young 4-75; Rodriguez 3-57.