It may take yet another miracle for the Liberty-Benton football team's run to continue in the Division V playoffs as the Eagles will now run into powerhouse Coldwater today.
Fate seems to be on Liberty-Benton's side so far with an improbable late comeback against Patrick Henry last week and an upset in overtime over undefeated Lima Central Catholic the week before that.
Now that the unranked Eagles (12-1) have reached the state final four, they face the formidable task of slaying another giant.
Liberty-Benton takes on No. 1 ranked and undefeated Coldwater (13-0) in the D-V state semifinal on today at 7 p.m. at Lima Stadium.
It is the fourth straight appearance and 10th overall in the state semifinal for Coldwater.
The Cavaliers captured state titles in 2005 and 2007.
L-B is in the state semifinals for the second time in five seasons and third time overall.
“We will take our best swing at them and see what happens,” L-B coach Tim Nichols said.
“Sometimes you don't know how the ball will bounce, like we saw the last two weeks. We were fortunate to win our region and we may shock them.”
Nichols admitted his team was outplayed last Saturday by Patrick Henry, especially up front.
The Eagles trailed the Patriots by 11 points with 6:38 left in a regional final at Lima.
But L-B's Chase Cook intercepted a pass and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown and just moments later the Eagles' Anthony Webb came up with another pick. Two plays later Austin Combs scored and L-B went on to win 22-21.
“It felt like our season was winding down with the minutes going by and the next thing you know, we're back in it,” Nichols said.
“I give credit to our kids. They kept playing. We had that also against LCC. We had huge breaks go our way.”
Liberty-Benton held off top seeded Lima CC 24-17 in overtime as they knocked out the perennial power for the second straight season.
Liberty-Benton's lone setback came back in the third week of the season when the Eagles lost 43-36 to McComb.
The team has reeled off 10 straight wins.
But Coldwater has been a force on offense and defense. The Cavaliers have given up just 6.9 points per game and are scoring 36.8 points per contest.
They shut out No. 7 ranked Covington 20-0 to win a regional title last week.
Coldwater averages 379 yards of offense per game with 141 on the ground and 238 through the air. The Cavaliers give up just 191 yards per contest (100 rushing and 91 passing).
Quarterback Austin Bruns has thrown for 2,470 yards (166 of 233) and 29 touchdowns. The 6-foot-4 senior has rushed for a team-high 569 yards and has 12 rushing touchdowns.
Backs Mitch Feltz (335 rushing yards and five TDs) and Jordan Chapin (229 yards and seven scores) provide balance.
Wideouts Caleb Siefring (633 receiving yards and 12 TDs) and Josh Huber (572 and five scores) are Bruns' top targets.
On defense Zach Dickman leads the way with 112 tackles and three sacks, while Brody Hoying has four interceptions.
“There are no weaknesses and all strengths,” Nichols said. “Our kids understand that you don't get to three straight state appearances without having something really good going on. But our goal is to play our best 48 minutes.”
He said Coldwater spreads the ball around and that Bruns has better arm strength than any QB his team has seen. He also said Dickman is a special linebacker.
“We will have to stay within ourselves and continue to do what we have done,” he said.
Senior quarterback Mitch Linhart, a three-year starter, keys the Eagle offense. Linhart has completed 122 of 214 passes for 1,866 yards and 19 touchdowns. He has rushed for a team-high 906 yards and 15 scores.
“We will lean on Mitch again,” Nichols said. “We will have to move the chains because we don't want to leave our defense out there.”
The Eagles have averaged 38.5 points per game and given up only 11.8. The team has averaged 403.1 total yards per game, including 259.5 on the ground.
Cook has been Linhart's main weapon. He has 53 catches for 1,866 yards and 14 touchdowns. Kyle Bowsher has 23 catches for 402 yards and four scores.
Combs (796 rushing yards and 11 scores) Bowsher (434 yards and five scores), and Tim Petrella (395 and six scores) have also carried the workload on the ground.
Linhart leads the L-B defense with four interceptions, while Anthony Webb and Bobby Snook each have three.
“We're tickled to still be playing,” Nichols said. “We still don't feel like we've played our best yet.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.
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