LIBERTY CENTER - The irresistible force met the immovable object at Tiger Stadium here last night.
Score one for the immovable object.
The irresistible force - the offense of an Ashland Crestview team that averaged 46.7 points per game in 10 regular-season wins - had its moments against the immovable object - a Liberty Center defense that gave up just 107 points in 10 victories.
But the Tiger defense made big plays when it needed to as Liberty Center claimed a 22-20 victory over the Cougars in a Division V playoff opener.
Liberty Center survived more than won. It saw the Cougars score a touchdown with just 2:51 left to play, cutting the Tigers' lead to just two points.
The Tigers stuffed a potential game-tying two-point attempt, only to see Crestview get the ball back with 36 seconds still on the clock. But Liberty Center pushed the Cougars back in the final seconds, with Brian Dotson and Lucas Bodenbender combining on a game-ending sack of quarterback Tony Manocchio.
Tiger coach Rex Lingruen tried to prepare his team for a Crestview offense that had at least 60 points in three games and scored at least 50 points in three others. “We told (our players) these guys could score on any play,” Lingruen said. “It's hard to compare scores and stuff because you don't know the level of competition, but (Crestview) was for real. They were a very good club.”
Crestview turned doubters of its offense into believers on the game's second play from scrimmage as John Stuart took a handoff, swept the left end and raced 66 yards for a touchdown.
But after that Liberty Center stuffed the Cougars for the rest of the first half. Crestview ran 17 more plays in the half, and only two gained more than four yards.
And the Tigers' defense set up a pair of first-quarter touchdowns. After pinning the Cougars inside the 10-yard line on their second series, Liberty Center got the ball on the Crestview 25 and drove into the end zone, with Rodney Ponton scoring from three yards out.
On Crestview's next possession the Tigers recovered a fumble at the Cougar 30, and Tim Myers threw a 30-yard bomb to Kyle Pieracini for six more points.
Liberty Center upped its lead to 22-6 on the first possession of the second half, driving 67 yards on seven plays.
After Ponton ran 25 yards to cap the drive, the Tigers' special teams made a play that proved to be the difference in the game. Liberty Center lined up for an extra-point kick, but instead Myers, the holder, threw a pass to Nate Zeiter for two points.
Crestview's offense still had a few big plays up its sleeve - a 46-yard run by Marc Peterman was followed by a 38-yard TD toss from Manocchio to Andrew Gribben 11 seconds before the third quarter ended.
And the Cougars used a 15-play, 79-yard drive to give the Tigers a late scare, scoring on Peterman's one-yard plunge with 2:51 left.
But the Liberty Center defense, keyed by 14 tackles from Nate Bayer and 10 more by Dustin Salmi, made big plays when it needed to in preserving the win.
“I think our schedule helped us out,” said Lingruen, who saw his Tigers claim their 20th victory in the state playoffs. “Our last two games (wins over Delta and Archbold that gave the Tigers the NWOAL title) were similar to this. Our kids played great.”
The Tigers will play Fairview next Friday. Both are 11-0.
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