LIMA, Ohio — Blind luck.
Blind luck with a lot of speed that is.
With his team trailing by 11 points and Patrick Henry knocking on the door, Liberty-Benton’s Chase Cook stepped in front of a pass at the goal line and returned it 100 yards.
The pick six with 6:38 left in the game was the turning point as the Eagles stunned Patrick Henry 22-21 Saturday night at Lima Stadium in a Division V, Region 18 championship. The win puts the Eagles in the state semifinals for the second time in five seasons and they will likely face Coldwater next Saturday at a site to be determined today.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing,” said Cook, who also caught 5 passes for 79 yards.
“(Kyle) Bowsher put me at safety since they were on the goal line. I was going to go in and stop the run. But I saw two (receivers) come out. One went deep in the end zone and the other was shallow so I played in the middle of them. I think he was throwing to the deeper one.
“I caught it and took it back. I kept looking back because I didn’t want to get caught.”
Liberty-Benton (12-1) had coughed and sputtered throughout the second half with just 16 yards of total offense. Patrick Henry was dominating L-B up front on both sides of the ball and had driven to the Eagles’ 4-yard line to salt the game away.
But on a third-and-goal, PH quarterback Gabe Jones faked a handoff and tossed out to the left flat in the direction of Josh Petersen. Cook stepped in front of the pass and took it to the house.
“If it was anyone to get a pick it is him [as he would] not get caught,” said L-B coach Tim Nichols, whose team has now beat the Patriots (10-3) two times in a row in the playoffs.
“Football is a funny game. Daggone that was just crazy.”
Patrick Henry finished the night with 219 rushing yards and had run for 33 yards on the drive to reach the L-B 4. But veteran coach Bill Inselmann elected to go to the air.
“We had been running the ball, running the ball, running the ball,” said Inselmann, whose team is now 4-4 in regional finals over the past 11 years. “We thought we could get them to bite on the play action and motion. We missed our pass. In hindsight I wish I would have called a run.”
Just 38 seconds after Cook’s interception return, the Eagles’ defense came up big again. Facing a first-and-25, Jones, who was 15-of-23 passing for 144 yards, threw a pass right to L-B’s Anthony Webb. Webb returned the pick 26 yards to the one. Two plays later Austin Combs bulled in from the 2 to give L-B a 22-21 lead.
“That was just as big. I wish Anthony had gotten in,” Cook said. “Coach [Kelly] Cummings said if we dropped into the coverage we’d get a pick and we did.”
L-B finished the night with 148 totals yards, including minus 13 on 28 carries.
“We have never had a game that we were like this,” Nichols said. “They dominated us and somehow we ended up one point better.
"They beat us every way, shape and form. Sometimes a team will take one thing away, but I can’t recall a defense taking both away. I think they just brought more attitude.”
Patrick Henry started strong as the Patriots marched 58 yards in 9 plays on the game’s first drive. Jones capped it on a 23-yard run off left end. Liberty-Benton had an answer and quick. Facing a third-and-nine, Mitch Linhart, who was 8-of-19 passing for 161 yards, fired an out to Kyle Bowsher. Bowsher was wide open after Petersen slipped on the turf. Bowsher turned up field and was able to make it a 67-yard catch-and-run TD.
Linhart added a 26-yard field goal seven seconds into the second quarter. The score was set up by a 50-yard pass from Linhart to Cook.
L-B fumbled 3 times on the night, but didn’t lose any of them. PH coughed the ball up once and Jones threw the two key interceptions.
“Every time they put the ball on the ground they recovered and every turnover we had they made us pay,” said Inselmann.