By NATHAN INNIGER
WAPAKONETA — As Liberty-Benton senior Mitch Linhart was walking to the lockerroom after Saturday night’s Division V, Region 18 playoff game against Lima Central Catholic, head coach Tim Nichols found him before he could get off the field.
“You get to do this another week,” Tim Nichols told his quarterback.
Linhart and his teammates survived the explosive Thunderbirds with a thrilling 24-17 overtime victory.
It is the second year in a row that the Eagles have knocked off LCC, which has been the No. 1 seed on both occasions. Over their last 22 games, the Thunderbirds are 20-0 against teams other than L-B, but 0-2 versus the Eagles.
It certainly wasn’t easy for L-B, though. But when crunch time came L-B stepped up its game a notch or two.
Linhart scored on a 3-yard plunge in overtime to put the Eagles ahead and teammates Chase Cook and Brandon May secured the victory with stellar defensive efforts.
On Lima Central Catholic’s second play of its overtime possession, senior wingback Ryan Pitts took a toss and exploded through a massive hole, juked two L-B defenders and appeared to be headed for a score.
As he passed Cook, the Liberty-Benton junior cornerback knocked the ball out Pitts’ grasp and a stampede toward the ball in the back of the end zone ensued
May, a junior defensive end, was the first player to catch up to the pigskin and his recovery clinched the victory.
Linhart had a potential 40-yard game-winning field blocked at the end of regulation, but shined in overtime.
On the first play from the 20-yard line, Linhart, who was 17 of 26 passing for 132 yards, hit Joel Bell on a shallow crossing route and Bell got to the six yard line. Sophomore Austin Combs carried the ball twice to the one.
An untimely false start penalty moved the ball back to the six. On third down, Linhart evaded a sack to keep the play alive and LCC was flagged for a facemask penalty.
On the next play, Linhart, who had 73 yards rushing on 21 carries, slashed into the end zone. His extra point put the Eagles ahead 24-17.
L-B had a chance to win in regulation when it gained possession with 1:05 left. Linhart completed three of four passes as the Eagles moved to the Thunderbirds’ 23 with four seconds left.
Linhart got off a strong kick, but it was blocked off the edge by LCC.
Similar to the previous week, L-B allowed the Thunderbirds to go 54 yards on eight plays as Mykale Rogers swept outside for a 3-yard touchdown giving LCC a 7-0 lead just two and a half minutes into the game.
The Thunderbirds built a 14-3 lead after their second possession when Darius West caught a pass in the flat and sprinted up the left sideline for a 19-yard score.
LCC rushed for 207 yards on 43 carries, but only 76 of those yards were after halftime. Kalito Lasenby had 14 carries for 91 yards. Colin Stolly was 5 of 11 passing for 77 yards.
The Eagles had an offensive plan, too, and scored on long drives which kept the potent LCC offense off of the field for much of the game.
L-B rushed for 132 yards on 34 carries. Sophomore Austin Combs had 59 yards on 19 carries.
Linhart kicked a 40-yard field goal after a 14-play, 36 yard drive on their first possession. L-B was even more impressive on its next possession.
The Eagles coverted two 4th-and-1s and a 3rd-and-9 before Linhart snuck in from one yard. The drive lasted 15 plays and took seven minutes off of the clock.
L-B took a 17-14 lead, on its first possession of the third quarter.
This time the Eagles held the ball for five minutes. L-B converted three third downs on the drive that ended with Linhart hitting senior Kyle Bowsher on a corner route for a 29-yard scoring connection on 3rd-and-14.
LCC drove inside the L-B five yard line, but had to settle for a Corey O’Dowd 21-yard field goal that tied the game at 17.
Liberty-Benton 3 7 7 0 7 — 24
Lima Cent. Catholic 7 7 0 3 0 — 17
LCC — Roger 3 run (Stolly kick)
L-B — FG Linhart 40
LCC — West 19 pass from Stolly (Stolly kick)
L-B — Linhart 1 run (Linhart kick)
L-B — Bowsher 29 pass from Linhart (Linhart kick)
LCC — FG O’Dowd 41
L-B — Linhart 4 run (Linhart kick)
First Downs 17 15
Rushes-yards 45-132 35-207
Passing Yards 149 77
Comp-Att-Int 17-26-0 5-12-1
Punts-Avg. 2-66.5 3-30.3
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 3-53 3-77
rushing — Liberty-Benton, Combs 19-55, Linhart 21-73. Lima Central Catholic, Lasenby 14-91, Rogers 6-43, Huffman 7-52.
passing — Liberty-Benton, Linhart 17-26-0-149. Lima Central Catholic, Stolly 5-11-1-77.
receiving — Liberty-Benton, Bowsher 7-78, Bell 4-23, Combs 4-35. Lima Central Catholic, Huffman 3-40.
By NATHAN INNIGER