DEFIANCE - The Liberty Center football team has been here before.
The pressure of a state playoff game? The Tigers are playing in the playoffs for the eighth time since 1991.
Close contest? Liberty Center has been in plenty of those games too - six so far this year, in fact.
But the Tigers overcame all those obstacles - as well as a stubborn Delphos Jefferson squad - to claim a 22-20 victory in a Division V regional semifinal at Fred Brown Stadium last night.
And Liberty Center used an impressive second-half performance to remain unbeaten at 12-0 for the season. The Tigers scored all 22 of their points in that half and, except for one breakdown and a late drive, shut down the Jefferson offense completely in the half.
“I'm really proud of the way the kids responded,” said Liberty Center coach Rex Lingruen. “We were down, and we had 24 minutes (to play). If we didn't respond, the season was over.”
But the Tigers did respond. Trailing 7-0 at the start of the second half, Liberty Center covered 65 yards in just seven plays to score. Tailback Troy Westhoven ran for 32 of those yards, including the final 11 yards for the TD.
Then the Tigers pinned Jefferson on its 1-yard line, and Liberty Center swarmed Seth Thiroff in the end zone for a safety and an 8-7 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter the Tiger defense, which limited Jefferson to just four yards of total offense in the third period, broke down one time. Bruce Renner broke the line of scrimmage and raced 91 yards down the sideline to give the Wildcats a 13-8 lead.
But LC responded to the challenge, driving 73 yards in seven plays as Westhoven accounted for all the yardage. He threw a 31-yard option pass to Jeremy Babcock and ran for the rest of the yards, including a 15-yard TD run.
The Liberty Center defense held again and gave the Tigers possession on the Jefferson 28 after a fourth-down gamble by the Wildcats failed, and Westhoven carried three times to reach the end zone again, the last run covering eight yards.
Westhoven gained 166 yards on 20 second-half carries to give him 239 yards in the contest. “We changed the blocking scheme a little bit (at halftime),” he said. “And our offensive line got fired up a little bit. We knew they were a good team, but we knew we were a better team.”
Both teams struggled on offense in the first half until Jefferson finally pieced together a 10-play, 82-yard drive in the final minutes.
Thiroff got the drive started with a 37-yard carry to the Tigers' 45. The drive also was aided by a pass interference call on Liberty Center which gave the Wildcats the ball on the LC 16.
Jefferson ground the ball to the 2 and called just the second pass play of the drive. It was the right call, though, as quarterback James Wiltsie hit Renner on a quick slant for the touchdown.
But outside of Renner's long run and a six-play, 58-yard drive that resulted in the game's final score, Lingruen's Tigers were in command in the second half.
“In the first half they hit us hard and beat us at the line of scrimmage,” said Lingruen. “But our kids were pretty determined in the second half. It just shows the character of these kids.”
DEERFIELD, Mich. - Britton-Deerfield turned counter-puncher in a Michigan Division 7 quarterfinal and came away with a 21-12 victory over Sand Creek.
In a hard-hitting defensive battle that saw Britton-Deerfield gain just 57 rushing yards on 31 carries and Sand Creek 49 on 22, B-D answered every Sand Creek score plus one.
Murray Walsh put Sand Creek up 6-0 on a one-yard run with 6:45 left in the first quarter, but B-D went ahead 7-6 with 4:44 left when Justin Renshaw also scored from a yard out and Ben Bailey added the extra point.
Bob Zean gave Sand Creek a 12-7 lead with just 10 seconds left in the half when he grabbed a 23-yard pass from Andrew Cox.
But on the first possession of the second half, B-D marched down the field and went up 14-12 when Bailey connected with Chris Stamper on a 33-yard TD pass with 8:06 left in the quarter.
Stamper completed the scoring with 43 seconds left when he returned an interception 45 yards.
Britton-Deerfield (12-0) got 174 yards through the air as Bailey hit 15 of 25 with one TD and one interception.
Sand Creek (9-3) got 200 yards through the air on 14 of 26 but suffered four interceptions. Sand Creek also lost a fumble.
Britton-Deerfield plays unbeaten Gobles Saturday at Jackson Withington Stadium at 3:30.
LAKE ORION, Mich. - Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes beat Whiteford 23-0 in Division 8.
Kurt Ovall gained 78 yards on 16 carries for Whiteford (8-4), but that was about all for the Bobcats, who were outgained 484 yards to 110.
Kurt Grover kicked first-half field goals of 22, 25 and 35 yards for Our Lady (11-1).