BRYAN -- With an unbeaten record on the line, the Liberty Center defense came up big when it was needed most and the Tigers held off Bryan 29-25 on Friday night in a game marred by penalty flags.
The Golden Bears, which had overcome a 22-3 halftime deficit to take a 25-22 advantage before the Tigers regained the lead with a late touchdown, drove to the LC 14-yard line with one minute remaining. But quarterback sacks by Bryan Hefflinger and Kaleb Pohlman sandwiched around an incomplete pass put Bryan in a fourth-and-28 situation at the LC 31 with 44 seconds to play. Anthony Righi, who set up the winning TD five minutes earlier, then knocked down a Austin Schimmoeller pass at the 5-yard line to preserve victory number eight on the season for the Tigers.
"It was the first time we had gone against the spread and everyone had to depend on each other," explained Righi. "I just said to myself don't let him catch it (on the final pass)."
The defensive stand came after Bryan had scored three touchdowns in the second half, the last on a 39-yard pass from Schimmoeller to Travis Peters giving the hosts the lead for the first time with 7:30 left.
But the Tigers retaliated, sparked by a 44-yard kickoff return by Righi, giving LC possession at the Bryan 47. Two plays later Righi was on the receiving end of a 39-yard pass from Josh Drain.
"I knew I was going to catch it," Righi said about his thoughts when the play was called.
Despite an interference call on Bryan, Righi hauled in the pass, just the second completion of the game for Liberty, giving the Tigers the ball at the Bryan 7-yard line.
"I knew I just had to execute to get the job done," Righi said. "It was a great throw."
And a call LC coach Rex Lingruen felt his team needed.
"They had 11 in the box, we knew it was time to throw," Lingruen explained. "We got the throw off and Righi did a nice job."
Three plays and one penalty later, Sean Westhoven scored what proved to be the game-winning TD.
But the game was far from over.
After an exchange of punts, the Bears took possession at their own 38 with 2:10 remaining only to get stymied in the end by the LC defense.
"We knew we were due for a letdown," said Lingruen, whose squad came in off a 28-14 victory over Ridgewood on Saturday in a battle of unbeatens. "But we got it done at crunch time."
A quick start gave the Tigers an early cushion, which led to a 22-3 halftime lead.
LC opened the game with a 15-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 7:30 off the clock, capped off by a Westhoven 1-yard run.
Bryan fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Westhoven recovered. Three plays and 15 yards later Tony Bais hit paydirt from one yard out and LC led 13-0 before Bryan had run an offensive play.
Bais added a 38-yard TD run in the second quarter for a 19-0 lead before the teams exchanged field goals to close out the first-half scoring.
"We did what we wanted in the first half," Lingruen noted. "But there were so many penalties (in the second half) that really hurt us."
Including an incredible nine face mask calls in the game, the two teams were whistled for a combined 27 penalties totaling 256 yards. LC had eight alone in the second half for 92 yards.
It was also a half that saw Bryan lose two starters, quarterback Collin Bacon and lineman Chad Lee, yet the Bears came back behind Schimmoeller, a sophomore signal-caller that threw for three touchdowns. Derek Hug led the way with eight receptions for 155 yards.
"We've always felt good about Austin," Bryan coach Kevin Kline said. "We expect our kids to come in and make plays."
But in the end it was the LC defense that made the biggest plays of the game in handing Bryan its second straight loss after six wins to open the season.
"Overall I'm happy with the kids," Kline assessed. "We matched them tonight and they're supposed to be one of the best teams in northwest Ohio. They showed it at the end."
LC, now 6-0 in the NWOAL, is back in action Friday at Delta while Bryan, which dropped to 4-2 in league play, hosts Swanton.
First Downs 15 19
Rushing Yards 56-240 25-84
Passing Yards 66 289
Total Yards 306 373
Passing 2-8-1 19-35-0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-1
Penalties 13-141 14-115
L. Center 13 9 0 7 - 29
Bryan 0 3 14 8 - 25
LC - Westhoven 1-run (Pohlman kick).
LC - Bais 1-run (kick failed).
LC - Bais 38-run (pass failed).
B - Chaney 27-field goal.
LC - Pohlman 25-field goal.
B - Hug 28-pass from Schimmoeller (Hug pass from Schimmoeller).
B - Bogosian 5-pass from Schimmoeller (pass failed).
B - Peters 39-pass from Schimmoeller (Schimmoeller run).
LC - Westhoven 2-run (Pohlman kick).
RUSHING: Liberty Center - Westhoven 26-132; Bais 20-94; Righi 5-22; Niner 1-5; Drain 4- (-13). Bryan - Schimmoeller 17-44; Bacon 5-23; Chaney 1-15; Eyre 2-2. PASSING: Liberty Center - Drain 2-8-1-66. Schimmoeller 10-19-0-183; Bacon 9-16-0-106. RECEIVING: Liberty Center - Righi 2-66. Bryan - Hug 8-155; Bogosian 7-73; Chaney 2-12; Peters 1-39; Schimmoeller 1-10.