HAMLER - Patrick Henry claimed a 36-28 home victory over Delta last night. But the victory was earned on the practice field heading into the contest.
The Patriots saw a Northwest Ohio Athletic League-record 30-game win streak snapped at Evergreen last Friday.
But instead of hanging their heads, the Patriots put together one of their finest efforts of the season to hand the Panthers their first loss of the season.
"You never know how your team is going to recover after a loss - any coach who tells you he does isn't telling the truth," Patrick Henry coach Bill Inselmann said. "I was very concerned.
"But the coaches met on Sunday and decided we would come in upbeat. I think it surprised some of our kids. But I think that confidence rubbed off."
With the win the 5-1 Patriots are back on top of the NWOAL with a 4-1 league record.
Delta (5-1) fell to 3-1 in the league and is part of a pack with Evergreen, Wauseon and Archbold one-half game behind PH.
Patrick Henry, which had relied heavily on a strong running game most of the season, leaned on its passing game last night.
And that strategy worked: The Pats completed 17 of 25 passes for 259 yards and three touchdowns to offset a running game that produced just 80 yards.
"Their defensive interior is so good, we had an idea we would not be able to run the ball, so we worked on the passing game hard," Inselmann said. "Did I think we could look that sharp? No. I am so proud of my quarterback tonight, because Tom Busch played a whale of a football game."
On the game's opening drive PH drove 43 yards on seven plays, with Busch sweeping four yards for the score. But Delta tied the game on its first play from scrimmage as Derrick Vicars raced through the line untouched for a 68-yard TD.
Late in the first quarter Drew Kuesel scored on a 14-yard run, and early in the second quarter Patrick Henry drove 65 yards for another touchdown, with Busch completing 6-of-8 passes for 57 yards. The TD toss was a PH staple: Busch hit Kuesel with a swing pass in the flat and the running back rumbled nine yards for the score.
"Last year we had a great passing game, but this year it has been underrated," Busch said. "We dropped a lot of balls early in the season, but we stepped it up in practice."
Delta cut the Patriots' halftime lead to 21-14 with a 16-play, 66-yard drive that consumed all but the last 1:03 of the half. Using all running plays, Vicars - who ran for a game-high 172 yards on 28 carries - finished the drive with a one-yard TD dive.
The Panthers tied the game with a 10-play drive to start the second half, with Derek Lambert scooting 38 yards for a touchdown. But PH took the lead for good on its next possession when Busch found tight end Dentin Saunders wide open over the middle for a 34-yard score.
The Patriots gave themselves a cushion with 2:21 left in the game when Kuesel caught a swing pass from Busch, broke through the Delta defense, and raced 52 yards for a TD.
The Panthers scored on an 11-yard pass from Aaron Betz to Michael Dickerson with 24.1 seconds left, but Patrick Henry's Austin Bower covered an onside kick and the Patriots ran out the clock.
"It's a heartbreaking loss. We were undefeated, and we have never, in the history of our school, won an outright title," Delta coach Mike Vicars said. "It's the worst feeling in the world for our coaches and our kids.
"But Patrick Henry is going to win five [league titles] in a row, and the reason is because they didn't take last week's loss lying down. That is not the same team that played [at Evergreen] last week. Like a champion, they got off their duffs and played well."
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