PERRYSBURG — Liberty Center football coach Casey Mohler said Elmwood’s offense was the best his team had faced all season.
That is still not good enough for the Royals, which lost 49-38 to the Tigers in a Division V regional final playoff game at Perrysburg’s Widdell Field at Steinecker Stadium Friday.
Still, the 38 points are the most any team has put on the 14-0 Tigers, ranked No. 1 in the region and fourth in the Associated Press state poll.
The next highest offensive output against the Tigers was by Napoleon, which lost 35-21 to LC.
The Royals accumulated 376 total yards, including 264 passing as senior quarterback Hayden Wickard completed 21-of-32 passes with four touchdowns.
The game saw five fumbles lost, including three by Liberty Center, but Elmwood only capitalized on one. LC took advantage of two Elmwood fumbles late in the game, scoring both times.
The Tigers shut down Elmwood’s offense, outscoring the Royals 21-6 in the fourth quarter.
Mohler was not sure how they did it, but he was glad they did.
“I really don’t know. We just kept playing, sticking to the plan,” Mohler said. “When you get into a game like this, eventually people start getting tired. … If maybe we just had a little more juice there at the end.
“Whatever it was I’m glad we did it. That’s how the game of football goes. The ball bounces funny sometimes and we dropped the ball a couple times, and then they dropped it, and it kind of sparked us.”
Mohler also credited Elmwood’s defense for forcing three lost fumbles, when the Tigers had only lost fumble all season, but that was so long ago Mohler could not even remember it happening.
“Those might have been the first turnovers we had all season and that is a credit to Elmwood,” Mohler said. “They forced some of those, but our guys kept going, kept playing hard, and finally something good happened and we just used that momentum to keep going.”
LC now advances to the state final four to take on 14-0 Canfield South Range at Robert J. Bishop Jr. Stadium in Clyde on Friday. Elmwood, the No. 2 seed in the region, sees its season end at 12-2.
LC led the entire game, but the Royals were never down by more than one possession. Elmwood’s defense stiffened in the third quarter and kept the Tigers out of the end zone.
“We made some adjustments. Hats off to our guys just making sure we were doing our gaps and were a little bit more assignment sound,” Elmwood coach Greg Bishop said.
Down 28-25, the Royals’ fortunes changed with 5:22 remaining in the third quarter.
The Tigers muffed a punt, and Elmwood junior Brennan Hiser recovered at the LC 22-yard line.
Six plays later, Elmwood senior running back Mason Oliver scored from nine yards out, giving Elmwood its first lead, 32-28, with 5:22 remaining.
“Our kids have been there, and they just kept going,” Bishop said. “They kept fighting, kept working. Liberty Center is a very good football team.”
The Elmwood defense forced a turnover on downs, and the Royals had the ball in the closing minutes of the third quarter with the lead.
However, the two lost fumbles on Elmwood’s next two possessions led to LC scores, and that was too much to overcome.
Out of its winged-T offense, LC ran up 474 total yards, including 428 on the ground. Most of LC’s rushing yardage came on plays over 20 yards, often after Elmwood’s defense stopped the Tigers for no or little gain.
“They got us on some big plays. They are a good football team and that is going to happen,” Bishop said.
LC senior running back Matthew Orr ran for 196 yards on 21 carries and a four-yard touchdown and junior Colton Kruse ran for 106 yards on 15 carries and had TD runs of 11 and three yards.
LC senior quarterback Zane Zeiter ran for 92 yards on 10 carries and had TDs of nine and three yards and senior tight end Aiden Hammontree had a 42-yard TD run.
It seemed like Zeiter’s speed carried the Tigers’ offense when they were struggling to pound their way through Elmwood’s defensive line.
“He had some good runs for us,” Mohler said. “There toward the end, and we had some trouble with our shotgun snaps, otherwise he probably would have gotten more carries because we were a little bit worried there.
“But we found some other things and some other guys stepped up and made plays. But Zane is a great athlete and anytime we ask him to do something, he usually comes through for us.”
Senior back Mason Oliver led Elmwood’s rushing attack with 77 yards on 20 carries and one TD, senior Alex Arnold scored on a 23-yard run, and Wickard ran for 13 yards on 11 carries.
Junior receiver Micah Oliver led the Royals’ receiving corps with 10 catches for 94 yards and two TDs and Arnold had five catches for 79 yards and one TD.
Elmwood senior Cannon Endicott had two catches for 68 yards and senior Mason Mossbarger had one TD catch covering 23 yards.
Arnold led Elmwood’s defense with six tackles and one assist, Endicott had six tackles, including an assist on a tackle for a loss, and Micah Oliver had five tackles and a sack for minus-five yards.
“I’m super proud of our kids. We faced a lot of adversity tonight,” Bishop said. “We made some mistakes and things didn’t go our way, but when you are this deep in the playoffs, you just can’t make those mistakes. They really battled all year.
“We have a great football team, a lot of records broken this year, a 12-2 football team and I love every single one of our guys.”