By TED RADICK
LIMA — A flair for drama.
The Liberty-Benton football team sure has a way of keeping its fans entertained until the end.
One week after an overtime fumble recovery in the end zone sealed a victory over No. 1-ranked Lima Central Catholic, the Eagles came up with perhaps an even more improbable ending to Saturday’s Division V, Region 18 championship at Lima Stadium.
Liberty-Benton scored twice off interceptions in the last 6 minutes, 38 seconds to deliver a 22-21 victory over Patrick Henry.
“Turnovers have really been a part of this playoff season,” Liberty-Benton linebacker Anthony Webb said. “That’s what’s been helping us win, people getting to the ball, putting hats on the ball, and people playing their coverages and doing things right.”
On paper, there’s no way Liberty-Benton should have beaten Patrick Henry.
For three and a half quarters, everything was going the Patriots’ way.
Football games are not played on paper, though, and the Eagles are thankful for that after a comeback win that put Liberty-Benton (12-1) into the state semifinals next Saturday against Coldwater today by the OSHAA.
Patrick Henry (10-3) trailed 10-7 at halftime but started the third quarter with an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive. It was an impressive display by the Patriots, who dominated along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in the second half.
Another Patrick Henry touchdown with four seconds left in the third quarter put the Patriots up 21-10, and the Eagles turned the ball over on downs on their first drive of the fourth quarter.
The Patriots again moved the ball. And moved it, and moved it some more.
Quarterback Gabe Jones rushed for more than 100 yards in the second half and 173 for the game. The Patriots had 11 first downs in the second half, and outgained the Eagles 197-19 after halftime.
When Patrick Henry pushed to the L-B four yard line midway through the fourth quarter, no one was more surprised to see a pass play than Liberty-Benton defensive back Chase Cook.
“Yeah, I mean, they were winning and they were running all over us the whole second half. All they needed to do was pound it in because we really couldn’t stop the run,” Cook said. “I’m really surprised they threw it.”
The result will live in Liberty-Benton lore for quite a while.
Cook’s 100-yard interception return starkly changed the momentum. Cook, for his part, admitted afterwards he’d put himself in a bad spot on the third-and-goal play.
“(Kyle) Bowsher went down to corner and bumped me back to safety. I’d been playing corner most of the game,” Cook said. “I thought they were going to run it, so I went in to play the run. I stepped back, and two guys came out in the pattern.
“One was deeper and one was shallower, and I just played the middle because I didn’t know where I was going. He threw it over the first guy straight into my hands.”
Patrick Henry got the ball back and was clearly rattled. The Patriots were called for a chop block penalty, and on the next play Anthony Webb stepped in front of a Gabe Jones pass and returned it to the 1.
After Austin Combs punched it in from the 2, L-B had a lead despite an offense that produced minus-13 rushing yards and six first downs.
“They were beating our ass, I’m not going to lie,” said Webb, who said he was similarly surprised to see the Patriots continue to go to the air.
“Patrick Henry is an aggressive team, and I knew they wanted to score. They didn’t want to beat us by just a touchdown.
“I’m so glad they did. It helped us out a lot.”
Call it lucky or call it whatever, but remember that good teams tend to create their own luck with good play and take advantage when opportunities arise.
“They just owned our offense,” Liberty-Benton coach Tim Nichols said. “But I’ll be darned, our defense just won the game.
“Our defense was gassed, our confidence was down. We just figured they’d run it in there, and Chase Cook was in the right spot. Momentum is ridiculous. We had none, but these doggone kids have done this since McComb in overtime.
“I guess sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and that was the M.O. tonight.”
By TED RADICK