LC Tigers stalking NWOAL football title

By MIKE VERNOTvernot@crescent-news.com Published:

Week 10 in high school football can mean something different to each team. For some, it means little, other than another game but to a select few it means the chance to prolong the season and keep league aspirations alive.

The Northwest Ohio Athletic League is certainly one that will be impacted this Friday with some final showdowns that could determine playoff eligibility and crown a league champion or possibly two.

Liberty Center (9-0, 7-0 NWOAL) has put itself in a good position this year with an undefeated season. The Tigers are ranked fifth in the state in Division V and have one last test standing in their way for an outright title ... a trip to Archbold (7-2, 5-2 NWOAL).

A win by the Tigers would secure their first NOWAL title since 2001 while a victory by the Blue Streaks would give them a playoff berth.

"With their defense being as good as it is, I don't see the game as being a high -scoring affair, at least on our end," admitted Archbold coach Bryan Miller. "We will have to take advantage of every opportunity we have to score and do the best we can to keep them in check offensively."

It all starts in the trenches for Liberty Center behind Jimmy Speith and Justin Gillen on the defensive line along with leading tackler Bryan Hefflinger (linebacker, 78 tackles) for a defense that has held opponents to just 173 yards on average.

"Their defensive front is great," stated Miller. "They are big, strong, athletic and aggressive and will be a challenge for sure. They are going to make plays, but hopefully we can use our speed to our advantage and get them running around and eventually tire them out a little."

When the Tigers offense is on the field, opponents can expect an aggressive running attack featuring a group of backs in Tony Bais with 135 carries and 960 yards and nine scores, Sean Westhoven with 123 carries for 809 yards and 11 touchdowns and Anthony Righi adds 44 touches for 290 yards and seven trips to the end zone.

"First and foremost, we have to swarm to the football and tackle," said Miller. "We did not do a good job of tackling last week. LC is a physical team and we will have to match that - it will be a long night for us if we don't."

For the Streaks, speed will be prevalent on the field but utilizing it to their advantage will be a major focus on offense.

Evan Wyse leads Archbold as the leading passer with 81 completions for 1,218 yards and 14 scores and as the leading rusher with 91 carries for 617 yards. TJ Gerken is Wyse's favorite target with 41 catches for 547 yards.

"Offensively, we have to protect the quarterback and give him time to make throws," explained Miller. "Likewise, we are going to have to be productive running. We aren't going to put up huge numbers in the running game against this defense, but if we can find some success running the ball, the more our passing game should open up."

"Finally, we have to take advantage of opportunities," concluded Miller. "Against a quality team like LC, you are only going to get so many chances - you absolutely can't afford to waste them."

Meanwhile in Hamler, Wauseon (5-4, 4-3 NWOAL) and Patrick Henry (7-2, 6-1 NWOAL) will clash with implications that could affect the playoff picture and league race.

The Patriots need a victory to propel themselves into a playoff spot and can also earn a share of the NWOAL title with a LC loss.

"My team understands what's on the line right here, they realize we are trying to make the playoffs for the 10th year in a row," explained PH mentor Bill Inselmann. "We're calling it that PH tradition and legacy, they want to contribute to that and don't want the streak to end.

"We also know that we have an outside chance for a piece of the pie, the NWOAL title with Liberty Center. None of that happens if we don't win so we have a lot of motivation."

As a team learning a new system, Wauseon will need to play its best game of the year according to coach Travis Cooper.

"It's a typical PH football team," he said. "As always, they're well coached and have a lot of good athletes on both sides of the ball. We've had some ups and downs, some games we played our heart out for a half or three quarters. We just never have seemed to put together a whole game and we need to do that against a good football team. For us to have a chance against Patrick Henry, we are going to have to play a full 48 minutes."

Stopping the Patriots attack may be easier said than done as the defense has allowed 212 points this season.

"I think a lot of it comes down to fundamentals, we need to be hitting our gaps," stated Cooper. "We need to make sure that we're tackling, we missed way too many tackles last week against Archbold and that killed us. For us to limit their running game it'll be important that we tackle well."

It's been a situation that any team would envy this year for Patrick Henry, a stable of running backs that each bring a different wrinkle to the running game but Inselmann is still concerned with how the Indians may be able to slow that aspect of the offense down.

"One thing we are finding with our running game is we do have a number of different backs that we can use," he said. "But we also know that our backs are only as good as our line blocks. They have some big defensive linemen and we think they will stack the box. We're predicting they'll play a 5-3 all night long and we are working very hard on our passing game."

Lucus Rosebrook leads the running game for PH with 109 carries for 778 yards and 20 touchdowns while Anderson Okuley has completed 40 passes for 719 yards and four scores.

With an offense that has had to learn a new system, Wauseon has to be able to run and pass according to Cooper to keep PH's offense off the field.

"We can't be one dimensional, we've got to be balanced," he said. "That starts, first and foremost, with the line of scrimmage. They have a big defensive line with some veterans so we're going to need to get it done up front but in the end we have to be balanced."

Dustin Makula heads up the Indian ground game with 77 touches for 557 yards and five touchdowns while Ty Suntken leads the air attack with 36 completions for 628 yards and seven touchdowns.

With so much on the line for the Patriots and a chance to play spoiler for the Indians, the final game of the regular season has Inselmann focused on his team's opponent.

"We feel that this is a very dangerous team," he concluded. "It's a team that has all the tools and one that will be tough for us to match up against. Their sheer numbers, compared to ours of just 34 but only 30 that can dress due to injuries, they just outnumber us. They have 18 seniors to our eight and size and athleticism at every position. We are worried that they have us out-matched…we've got to be ready to play ball."

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