By JAMIE BAKER
LIMA — There were only two numbers on the stat sheet from Saturday’s Division V, Region 18 championship game between Liberty-Benton and Patrick Henry that mattered.
2 and 22.
Two huge fourth-quarter interceptions by Liberty-Benton juniors Chase Cook and Anthony Webb and the 22 points the Eagles scored to win the game.
Those two picks were the reason the Eagles stunned Patrick Henry 22-21 at Lima Stadium and earned a spot in next week’s Division V state semifinals.
It was nearly midway through the fourth quarter and Patrick Henry (10-3) had a 21-10 lead and all of the momentum.
“Our defense was on the field the whole second half,” said Liberty-Benton coach Tim Nichols, whose team will take on Coldwater in the state semifinals next Saturday night.
“Our defense was gassed. The confidence was down and we thought they were going to run it in there and I’ll be darned if Chase Cook wasn’t in the right spot.”
Patrick Henry was facing a 3rd-and-goal at the Liberty-Benton 4 yard line and appeared poised to stick a fork in the Eagles and their regional semifinal dreams.
But Patrick Henry quarterback Gabe Jones rolled right and fired a pass in the endzone that Cook picked off at the goal line. The all-Ohio track standout ran to the opposite end of the field untouched for a Liberty-Benton touchdown.
A game that looked like it would be 28-10 Patrick Henry was suddenly 21-16 with 6:38 left.
The 100-yard pick 6 ignited the Eagles’ crowd and lifted the spirits of the players who thought their season might be slipping away.
Even after several goal line stands this season, including one in overtime in last week’s win over Lima Central Catholic, Cook and many of his teammates knew things weren’t looking good when the Patriots were knocking on the door in the fourth quarter.
“I was having doubts. I was pretty sure they were going to run it and pound it in for a score on us,” Cook said.
“He (Jones) threw it straight in my hands. I just started running. I didn’t even know I caught it. The whole field was wide open for me and I kept looking back because I didn’t want to get caught from behind and I held the ball tight.”
Patrick Henry coach Bill Inselmann, admittedly, would have liked to have a mulligan on the play that provided Cook’s TD.
“We thought we had been running the ball, running the ball running the ball and we thought we could get them to bite on the play action and the motion. We missed the pass and, in hindsight, I wish I would have called a run,” Inselmann said.
“Our kids played hard and did a lot of good things tonight. They made some big plays when they had to and they left everything out on the field so I’m really proud of them.
“But every turnover we made tonight, they made us pay.”
A chop block penalty backed the Patriots up to their 17 on the first play from scrimmage after Cook’s pick 6. Webb made the Patriots pay by picking off Jones again and returning the ball to the Patrick Henry 1.
Webb was well-prepared to make the interception that ultimately led to the game-winning score.
“We were practicing against that slant play all week,” said Webb, who had an interception for a touchdown against Vanlue earlier in the year. “I had been waiting for it all game and I finally saw it and stepped up and made the interception.”
Three plays after Webb’s interception, the Eagles’ Austin Combs crashed into the endzone from 1 yard out. Quarterback Mitch Linhart’s PAT pass to Cook was incomplete leaving the Eagles with a 22-21 lead and 4:58 left to play.
Patrick Henry was able to move the ball effectively most of the night.
Jones finished with 27 carries for 173 yards and was 15 of 23 passing for 144 yards and opened the scoring by ripping off a 23-yard touchdown run on a 4th and 1 play in the first quarter.
Galen Powers and Calvin Palmer added touchdowns to stake the Patriots to their 21-10 third-quarter lead.
The Patriots were victimized by another turnover during the final minutes of the first half as Palmer lost the football on his way to endzone. The ball was covered by the Eagles for a touchback, preserving Liberty-Benton’s 10-7 halftime lead.
Aside from a 67-yard touchdown pass from Linhart to Kyle Bowsher in the first quarter and a 49-yard hookup between Linhart and Cook that led to a 26-yard Lenhart field goal in the second quarter, Patrick Henry’s defense pretty much stuffed the Eagles.
Linhart was 8 of 19 passing for 161 yards and one interception.
The Liberty-Benton standout quarterback saw red all night though as he was surrounded by Patrick Henry defenders the entire game. He was sacked nine times as the Eagles were limited to minus-.
“They absolutely owned us. They owned our offense all night. We tried different protections, we tried everything. We just could not slow the mass of humanity down,” Nichols said. “They took away our run, they took away our pass and I’ll be darned our defense won the game.
“Patrick Henry’s kids played their tail off and they deserved to win a game like this nine out of 10 times. Tonight was just our one.”
Patrick Henry 7 0 14 0 — 21
Liberty-Benton 7 3 0 12 –
PH — Jones 23 run (Hoops kick)
L-B — Bowsher 67 pass from Linhart (Linhart kick)
L-B — FG Linhart 26
PH — Powers 5 run (Hoops kick)
PH — Palmer 6 run (Hoops kick)
L-B — Cook 100 interception return (run failed)
L-B — Combs 2 run (pass failed)
First Downs 20 6
Rushes-yards 43-219 28-(-13)
Passing Yards 144 161
Comp-Att-Int 15-23-2 8-19-1
Punts-Avg. 3-20.0 3-39.3
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-0
Penalties-Yards 6-45 1-15
rushing — Patrick Henry, Jones 27-173, Powers 6-25, Palmer 9-18, Prigge 1-3. Liberty-Benton, Combs 11-29, Bowsher 2-13, Bell 1-(minus-1), Linhart 14 (minus-54).
passing — Patrick Henry, Jones 15-23-2-144. Liberty-Benton, Linhart 8-19-1-161.
receiving — Patrick Henry, Hoops 6-72, Petersen 6-50, Ziegler 1-14, Nye 1-5. Liberty-Benton, Cook 5-80, Bowsher 3-81.