NAPOLEON – Playing a tight game after a scoreless first quarter, Liberty Center was able to pull away from county rival Napoleon with a pair of plays in the second period that propelled the Tigers past the Wildcats 26-7.
“They (Napoleon) were going to come out and be physical and we had to match that,” admitted Liberty Center coach Casey Mohler. “We had to do it for 48 minutes. Napoleon played hard. They did some things to hurt us. We had to figure some things out. I thought our kids stuck to the plan and played hard, and good things happen.”
Tiger running back Max Phillips played a big part in that. He ran for a 68-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter, plus added scoring jaunts of 44 and 31 yards.
His first scoring run set up a quick three plays that led to two Liberty Center touchdowns in the second period. On the first play of the second quarter, Phillips broke free on the far sideline and raced 68 yards into the end zone to score. On the ensuing kickoff the ball came free, with LC kicker Asa Killam reaching in from a seated position to come away with the football.
On the first play of the new possession, the Tigers went into their bag of tricks. Employing the halfback pass, Alex Righi found Trent Murdock for a 22-yard pass and a 12-0 Tiger lead with 11:32 left in the half.
“I have to give them a lot of credit,” said Napoleon coach Tory Strock. “Their kids played hard, as they always do. They made big plays.
“I don’t like it when coaches in defeat give you all the reasons why, sometimes you have to give the other team credit,” continued the Napoleon coach. “We’ve got to get better. This is only one game, its a Henry County rivalry and it stings, but you know what, the sun is going to come up tomorrow and we’ve got to get ready for Wauseon.”
It was Napoleon’s turn to catch a break inside the final minute of the half. Tanner Rubinstein hauled in what would have been a first down pass in the middle of the field, then had the ball jarred loose on a big hit. Jarrett Gerdeman was in the right place at the right time, and scooped up the ball and ran the final 23 yards to score. It cut the score down to 12-7 at the half.
“There were times we were getting into a groove a little bit,” said Strock. “We just were’t able to crack that big chunk.”
It was tough for Napoleon to do much after that. The defense of the Cats was in good shape after a punt was downed at the 3 yardline, but Liberty Center had no trouble. The Tigers took nine plays to get just inside Wildcat territory, then Phillips did the rest on a 44-yard touchdown run to put Liberty Center ahead 19-7 with 6:21 left in the third.
“This week, it was Max’s turn to have a big game,” stated Mohler.
“We let them out of jain with a big play,” admitted Strock.
Phillips added his third score, a 31 yard run, on the third play of the final stanza. He finished the game with 177 yards on 14 carries. The Tigers ran for 249 yards and added 82 in the air.
“We can’t be a one-man team,” said Mohler. “To compete for championships, we have to be a complete team. I feel like we’ve got about 18-20 guys we put out on a Friday night that help us out in some way, shape or form.”
Connor Keller salted the game away with an interception in the end zone.
Napoleon struggled for 104 rushing yards and added 120 in the air.
Liberty Center (2-0) will plays its home opener next week when the Tigers host Otsego. Napoleon (1-1) will host Wauseon.
First Downs 12 10
Rushing Yards 39-249 30-104
Passing Yards 82 120
Total Yards 331 224
Passing 5-6 13-19
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-1
Penalties 4-33 3-39
Liberty Center 0 12 7 7 — 26
Napoleon 0 7 0 0 — 7
LC — Phillips 68 run (kick failed)
LC — Murdock 22 pass from Righi (pass failed)
N — Gerdeman 23 fumble return (Schumm kick)
LC — Phillips 44 run (Killam kick)
LC — Phillips 31 run (Killam kick)
RUSHING: Liberty Center — Phillips 14-177; Bowers 13-50; Kern 7-25; Righi 1-5; Krugh 4-(-8). Napoleon — Gerdeman 13-70; Chipps 6-19; Warncke 4-12; Brubaker 2-11; Aldrich 3-3; Rubinstein 2-(-11). PASSING: Liberty Center — Krugh 4-5-0-60; Righi 1-1-0-22. Napoleon — Warncke 13-19-1-120. RECEIVING: Liberty Center — Murdock 2-31; Phillips 1-23; Kern 1-18; Keller 1-10. Napoleon — Malone 4-45; Gerdeman 3-34; Brubaker 2-9; Rubinstein 1-14; Jeffries-Babcock 1-8; Chipps 1-7; Mack 1-3.