LIBERTY CENTER — The Golden Bears finally broke through.
One week after Bryan fell on the road at state-ranked Patrick Henry, the Bears scored 28 second-half points to rally past No. 2 Liberty Center 35-30 Friday night in Northwest Ohio Athletic League play at Rex Lingruen Stadium.
“It had felt like we were one missed play here and one missed play there, so it’s great to finally pull through,” Bryan coach Grant Redhead said. “I’m so proud of these guys for how they played tonight, because they played to win. They didn’t play to not lose, and that was a big difference.”
Liberty Center, which came into the game with an unblemished 7-0 record, kicked off the scoring with 4:11 remaining in the first quarter when Max Phillips punched it in from the 2-yard line to cap a nine-play, 24-yard drive after Alex Righi recovered a Bryan fumble.
The Tigers stretched the lead to 14-0 with 3:11 left before halftime when Phillips plunged into pay dirt from the 7-yard line, capping a 23-play, 94-yard drive.
Bryan responded with a 10-play, 66-yard drive, completed when Nate Miller hit Connor Arthur for a 16-yard touchdown to pull the Golden Bears within 14-7 with 58 seconds left before the break.
LC started with the ball on its own 37-yard line, and senior Zach Bowers quickly flipped the field with a 46-yard jaunt to put the ball on the Bryan 18 with 42 seconds left. The run pushed Bowers, who came into the game with 907 yards on the year, over the 1,000-yard mark.
Three plays later, quarterback Camden Krugh pushed his way through the pile on the QB sneak from the Bryan 1 to put the Tigers up 21-7 with 27 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Bryan got the ball after halftime, and Miller wasted no time finding Arthur for an 83-yard touchdown on the third play of the third quarter to pull the Golden Bears within 21-14.
The Bears forced an LC three-and-out on the following drive, giving the ball back to Miller, who went four for five passing for 49 yards and a touchdown to pull even at 21-all with 5:11 remaining in the third quarter.
After trading punts on the next two drives, LC used healthy doses of Bowers and Karter Kern on the ground to move the ball to the Bryan 36, but Krugh’s pass on third-and-seven was intercepted by Isaiah Hale.
Miller was hot again through the air on the ensuing drive, completing six of seven passes for 41 yards before running to the pylon from six yards out to give the Golden Bears their first lead of the game at 28-21 with 3:56 left in the game.
The Tigers, aided by a defensive pass interference call on the first play of the following drive, got the ball to the Bryan 30-yard line, where they called on Bowers again, who took the ball up the gut on the counter for a 30-yard touchdown to tie the game at 28-all with 2:25 left.
Bryan had an immediate answer.
Arthur took the kick-off at the 10-yard line, zipping untouched up the far sideline for a 90-yard kick-return touchdown, giving Bryan a 35-28 lead with 2:12 left in the game.
“That was huge for us,” Redhead said. “It was big that we came out and didn’t sink after giving up the score. I thought we stayed aggressive and played until the end.”
Krugh marched LC down the field in a late attempt to tie the game, but a lob to the end zone was intercepted by Arthur in the corner with 42 seconds remaining.
Bryan was held to a three-and-out as LC coach Casey Mohler burned his three timeouts with each consecutive play, but Golden Bears’ punter Adam Fireovid ran the ball through the back of the end zone for a safety, pulling Liberty Center within 35-30 but giving Bryan a kick-off as opposed to a punt.
The move almost backfired, as Connor Keller returned the kick to the Bryan 21-yard line with 11 seconds remaining in the game. Krugh got a first down to the 11, getting out of bounds with four seconds left, and the last-second toss to the end zone was broken up as the clock hit double zeroes, sending the Tigers to their first loss of the year.
“We made too many mistakes tonight,” Mohler said. “I’m proud of how we stayed in it and gave ourselves a chance at the end, but you can’t win when you make that many mistakes.”
Miller finished completing 20 of 27 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns for Bryan, while Krugh completed five of 15 passes for 38 yards.
Bowers gained 169 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown for the Tigers, who also got 114 yards and two scores on 22 touches from Phillips and 57 yards on 11 rushes from Kern.
“It shows that those guys are in the right mindset and will give us a shot every time,” Mohler said. “Zach is a guy that’s been there, and he made some big runs for us.”
Miller led the Bryan rushing game with 37 yards, while Austin Dean picked up 14 on six rushes. Arthur gained 130 yards on seven catches through the air for two touchdowns, while Fireovid caught six balls for 66 yards and a score.
Liberty Center (7-1, 4-1 NWOAL) hosts Henry County rival Patrick Henry Friday, while Bryan (3-5, 2-3 NWOAL) hosts Evergreen.
“We know that we’ve got our rival coming up, so we have to just put this behind us,” Mohler said. “We’re going to go over the tape of this one, but then we are going to be on to next week. We can’t sit around and pout, we have to get back to work. Nobody is going to give us this league title, we have to go out and take it. It’s still there for us, we just need to get it.”
Redhead said he hopes his team can grow from a win over a previously-unbeaten state power.
“I hope that we can get some confidence moving forward,” Redhead said. “We’ve got a big one for us against Evergreen, who had a hot start but has kind of run into that same buzz-saw we ran into, so we have to enjoy this but move on quickly to get ready for next week.”