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DELTA - It was flash against smash when Delta and Liberty Center knocked heads here last night - the Panthers' electric jitterbug, Nate Kmic, matched up with the Tigers' diesel-driven engine, Eric Wymer.
The Northwest Ohio Athletic League powers met with major playoff implications on the line, and Liberty Center (8-1, 6-1) enhanced its postseason fortunes with a 27-23 win by scoring a big-play touchdown with just two minutes left.
With Delta (7-2, 5-2) sitting on a 23-20 lead and time winding down, the Tigers forced a punt and got the ball at their own 41. After jack-hammering the middle all night long, Liberty caught Delta looking for more of the same and quarterback Brian Babcock
hit wingback Bret Babcock with a pass at about the 35. When the foot race was over the Tigers had a 59-yard touchdown and a 26-23 lead. Cody Sanchez kicked the extra point for the final margin.
"That was a big play at a big time," Liberty Center coach Rex Lingruen said. "Both teams played tremendous football all night long, and we were lucky to come out on top."
Delta - which had to use all the creativity it could muster to get the 5-9 Kmic some space to operate as Liberty kicked away from him all night and then packed its defenders around him - had a penalty on the ensuing kick and got pinned deep.
Liberty Center swarmed Kmic, and the Panthers never moved beyond their own 21 in the final minutes. The Tigers intercepted a fourth-down pass with 14 seconds left to put it away.
"They made more plays than we did - that's the bottom line," Delta coach Mike Vicars said. "It was just a great effort by them tonight, a tremendous effort."
Kmic, who scored three touchdowns and a two-point conversion to give Delta a 20-13 lead late in the third quarter, finished with 155 yards on 19 carries and all of his team's points. Wymer carried the ball 26 times for 144 yards.
Liberty Center had led 13-12 at the half, but Kmic put Delta in front 18-13 when he went against the grain from the LC 33, cut several times to get to the outside, and tiptoed the sideline to the end zone. He then swept right and stretched out to get the ball over the goal line for a two-point conversion with six minutes left in the third quarter.
"He's a great back and we knew we'd have to bottle him up tonight," Lingruen said. "He's so dangerous, you have to wrap him up every time you tackle him. If he gets some open field, he can hurt you."
Wymer brought Liberty right back, busting into the middle for a 49-yard run to the Delta 5. Curt Silveus scored three plays later. Sanchez's kick knotted the score at 20.
The Panthers answered with a drive to the Tigers' 20, and Kmic boomed a 37-yard field goal to give Delta a 23-20 edge as the third quarter ended.
Liberty then used more than 10 minutes off the clock on a long drive that stalled at the Delta 36 with just over four minutes to play, but the Tigers' defense got the ball back on a three-and-out and set the stage for the winning pass play.