Liberty Center's Rodney Ponton tests the Fairview defense. Ponton had 68 yards on 19 carries.
NAPOLEON - A week ago the Fairview football team gambled and won, passing for a two-point conversion to claim an overtime win over Bluffton.
Yesterday it seemed as if lightning would strike again when the Apaches' Justin Hill took a handoff on a late two-point conversion and seemed to have clear sailing to the end zone.
But Liberty Center's Tim Myers made a fine open-field tackle to stop Hill just a yard short of the end zone. And that razor-thin margin perfectly reflected how close Fairview came to knocking off the Tigers in a Division V regional semifinal at Buckenmeyer Stadium.
Liberty Center earned a thrilling 13-12 victory over the Apaches in a game of 11-0 teams that turned all the pre-game hype on its ear.
Many felt the Tigers had a slight edge thanks to their playoff experience. So imagine the irony that a freshman, Curt Silveus, gave their offense a jump-start.
Silveus, who had just five carries for 15 yards in the first half, became the Tigers' go-to back in the second period. He had 20 carries for 65 yards and scored both of LC's touchdowns in the final half.
“(Starting running back) Rodney Ponton was a little banged up, and he was a little slow getting to the hole,” said Tiger head coach Rex Lingruen about the change to Silveus. “Plus we weren't able to sustain our blocks the way we wanted to. Curt was able to hit the hole a little quicker.”
After a scoreless opening half the Tigers covered 49 yards on 10 plays to start the second half, with Silveus capping the drive with a four-yard run.
Then Silveus shouldered the load when Liberty Center drove 39 yards on 15 plays to score again early in the fourth quarter. Silveus personally covered 37 of those yards on 11 rushes on a scoring drive that was aided by a critical fourth-down pass interference penalty against Fairview.
Silveus said his lack of playoff experience wasn't a problem on a team with 12 seniors. “I just follow the seniors,” Silveus said. “They know what they're doing, so I just follow their lead.”
That 13-0 lead seemed safe thanks to the fine work of a Tiger defense that, for the second straight week, was equal to the task of stopping a high-powered offense. The week before Fairview had set a school record by throwing for 451 yards, but up to the point of the Tigers' second score the Apaches had managed just 83 yards of total offense.
Then Dusty Bergman, on Fairview's first play from scrimmage after the second LC TD, connected on a 55-yard scoring strike to Darren Beals with 4:45 to play.
Fairview forced the Tigers to punt on their next possession and then covered 56 yards on eight plays, with Bergman finding Cale Sito all alone in the left corner of the end zone for an eight-yard TD toss with 1:11 left.
That set the stage for Fairview's attempt to win the game, a play that left coach Bob Olwin shaking his head. “(Myers) made a great play in a big-time situation,” he said. “But I can't be any more proud of our kids. They don't have any quit in them, and they found a way to get back into the game.”
Fairview had one last chance when they recovered an on-side kick after the failed two-point conversion, but Nate Bayer intercepted a Bergman pass to seal the win.
Liberty Center (12-0) will face a third consecutive unbeaten, Marion Pleasant, in the Region 18 final next Friday.