Two co-champions will battle Friday at Rex Lingruen Stadium Friday night in the Division VI regional quarterfinals as Liberty Center hosts Allen East.
Both teams come in at 9-1. Liberty Center shared the Northwest Ohio Athletic League title with Archbold, while Allen East shared the Northwest Conference title with Columbus Grove and Spencerville.
“Earning a trip to the playoffs is a big deal,” admitted Liberty Center coach Casey Mohler. “It can be taken for granted. It’s exciting and we’re very fortunate.”
The Tigers will see the top defense from the NWC. The Mustangs come in allowing 224.9 yards per game, including 80 in the air. They led the league in allowing 12.5 points per game.
“They’ll play a 3-5 scheme with five linebackers,” Mohler said of the Allen East defense. “Their linebackers fly to the ball.”
Allen East was also tied for second in the NWC in interceptions (10) and third in turnovers (17).
“We have some ideas,” Mohler said of attacking the Allen East defense. “We’ve never played these guys before so we don’t know how they’ll adjust.”
The postseason trip marks the first trip in a while for the Mustangs, which qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2006, a year where the program went 8-2 and earned a playoff win before falling to Lima Central Catholic in the second round. The trip is the fourth all-time for the program, which also qualified in 1989 and 1990.
Following a trip to the Division V state semifinals a year ago, Liberty Center is back in the postseason with a 9-1 mark, marking the 19th time the Tigers have tasted postseason football, with a 28-17 mark in those contests.
The Tigers go with the rushing attack of Zach Bowers and Max Phillips. Bowers leads the team with 1,212 yards rushing and 15 scores, while Phillips has added 946 yards and 11 TDs.
Quarterback Camden Krugh has hit 78 of 120 passes for 1,388 yards and 15 TDs. The downfield target is Trent Murdock, who has caught 22 passes for 594 yards. Alex Righi has hauled in 20 passes for 234 yards and Connor Keller has 18 catches for 254 yards.
The Allen East offense is in the middle of the pack in the NWC with 312.7 yards a game. They are led by quarterback Bryce Belcher, who has completed 112 of 212 1,497 yards with 16 scores. He also leads the team with 584 yards rushing and 14 TDs.
“Offensively, they are going to spread the field,” Mohler said of the Mustangs. “They are big with good speed up front.”
Garrett Neth adds another 365 yards on the ground.
The Mustangs have three dangerous receivers in Cole Fletcher (28 catches, 690 yards), Bradden Crumrine (31 catches, 461 yards) and Logan McCluer (33 catches, 365 yards).
Fortunately for the Tigers, the spread is something they have seen in the NWOAL.
“I definitely think our league has prepared us for the playoffs,” said Mohler. “Their offense is similar to some of the teams we’ve seen.”
Kickoff Friday night is set for 7 p.m.