Patrick Henry's Josh Strub leaps over a teammate to gain ground last night against Liberty Center.
NAPOLEON - The third time was the charm for Patrick Henry last night as the unbeaten, third-ranked Patriots answered every challenge from Northwest Ohio Athletic League archrival Liberty Center and emerged with a 41-27 victory in a Division V regional final played before an estimated 6,500 at Buckenmeyer Stadium.
The win gave PH (13-0) its first trip to the state semifinals after having lost prior regional finals in 1997 and last year.
Key for the Patriots this time was an air attack that stayed aggressive to the very end, one that the 13th-ranked Tigers (11-2), who had reached the state semis six times since 1992, had no answer for.
Patriot junior quarterback Zack George completed 14 of 20 passes for 253 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions, thanks in large part to his offensive line, which yielded just one sack.
Liberty Center, which trailed 14-0 at halftime, captured the game's momentum by opening the third quarter with back-to-back TD drives, pulling within 14-12 on Eric Wymer's two-yard plunge with 2:47 left in the third.
That score, however, seemed to open the floodgates, not for Liberty, but for PH.
The Pats answered by driving 74 yards and scoring on George's six-yard pass to Brian Yarnell 1:28 into the fourth quarter, the first six of 27 final-quarter points for PH.
When Tiger QB Brian Babcock was intercepted one play later by PH's Tyler Weber at the Liberty 29, George wasted no time going for the jugular. He hit Yarnell in stride on the next play for a 29-yard TD, putting the Pats ahead 27-12.
Liberty Center quarterback Brian Babcock breaks free against the Patrick Henry defense.
Liberty refused to go away, however, driving 68 yards on seven plays and scoring on Babcock's eight-yard pass to Paul Smith. A conversion run by Curt Silveus pulled the Tigers within 27-20 with 6:41 remaining.
"They started bringing it to us with their offense in the second half," PH coach Bill Inselmann said. "Liberty doesn't quit. They have great tradition. I thought our offense came up with some big passes. Zack George had a tremendous game. He threw the ball to a lot of receivers, and I think our passing game was the difference tonight."
Once again, George kept his foot down on the throttle. His 38-yarder to All-Ohio wideout Marc Krauss (six catches, 150 yards) paved the way to Josh Strub's five-yard TD run with 4:28 to go.
"I give our coaches a lot of credit," Kruass said. "They don't fold back when we've got a lead. We keep attacking because that's PH style. We didn't put away our guns, and it worked out for us. We put more points on the board, and that's what we needed."
When Liberty's next drive stalled, George threw the clincher, a 31-yard strike down the right sideline to Brad Leonard with 3:07 to play for an insurmountable 41-20 lead.
"We couldn't afford to get conservative at all," George said. "When we get conservative, we don't play good. "We have to keep taking shots and keep making plays. Our receivers made plays all night long, and our offensive line played real tough tonight."
The Tigers added a score on Babcock's 14-yard pass to cousin Bret Babcock with 2:05 left before PH finall ran out the clock.
PH took its 14-0 halftime lead thanks to a one-yard plunge from Ben Botjer 3:29 into the game, capping a 65-yard game-opening drive, and George's 66-yard bomb to Krauss with 7:00 left in the half.
"They did what they had to do," Lingruen said of PH. "They came back and scored when we started to get a little momentum change, and they just kept answering. Krauss was just too much for us. We just couldn't cover him, and that was the ballgame.
"They're good ballclub. They're very talented. As long as they stay poised, they've got a shot at going all the way."