By David Fong
LIBERTY CENTER — In a game featuring two hard-hitting, evenly-matched teams, Max Current had a feeling the team that made the fewest mistakes would emerge victorious.
Unfortunately for Current and his Miami East football team, Liberty Center was that team that made fewer mistakes, booting a 25-yard field goal as time expired to pull out a 24-21 win over Miami East in the Division V regional quarterfinal playoff game Saturday at Rex Lingruen Stadium.
“In a game like this, the team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins,” said Current, whose Vikings were making their seventh playoff appearance in a row. “Both teams made mistakes and each team had their opportunities, but they took advantage of our mistakes.”
With the score tied 21-21 midway through the fourth quarter, Liberty Center drove down to the East 5, but the Vikings defense stiffened, forcing a turnover on downs. The Vikings took the ball back and went the other way to the Liberty Center 36, but the Tigers’ Connor Sonnenberg picked off an Ian Gengler pass in the end zone and returned it to the Tiger 23 with 4:11 to play.
Liberty Center’s drive appeared to stall near midfield, but on fourth and 5, Liberty Center punter Parker Strauss took of running on a fake punt, picking up 8 yards to the Viking 49.
“We had jam return on that play, which means we are supposed to watch for the fake,” Current said. “We took our eyes off the punter a little too early.”
With 22 seconds to play in the game, Liberty Cener faced a third and 9 at the Viking 27. Fullback Zach Bowers picked up a 19 yard gain to the Miami East 8, setting up Orry Killam’s game-winning field goal, which he booted through the uprights for the win.
“That’s a tough way to lose a game,” Current said. “But we had our chances earlier.”
Tied 14-14 coming out of halftime, Liberty Center took the lead first on a 4-yard touchdown run by Caleb Carpenter. East would answer later in the quarter on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Gengler to Justin Brown. The game would stay that way until the final moments.
The game was back-and-forth from the opening moments.
After forcing a punt on East’s opening drive of the game, Liberty Center took over on its own 30 and drove down the field, capping off the drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Jarrett Krugh to Brendan Morris to take a 7-0 lead.
That would be Krugh’s final highlight of the night, however, as he suffered an apparent knee injury when he was sacked by East’s Brenden Dalton and Devin Lawrence on the very next drive. The Tigers were forced to punt, and Miami East took over at the Liberty Center 43.
On the first play following the punt, East’s Justin Brown ripped off a 43-yard touchdown run and Wes Sutherly booted the extra point, tying the game at 7-7 on the final play of the first quarter.
With Krugh out, the Vikings appeared to be building momentum. Two plays after his touchdown run, Brown recovered a fumble at the Liberty Center 43. Four plays later, Gengler hit Brown on a 26-yard touchdown pass, putting the Vikings up 14-7.
Rather than fold the tents, however, Liberty Center came back with back-up quarterback Camden Krugh, Jarrett’s younger brother, leading the way. After hammering away at the East defense with running backs Caleb Carpenter and Zach Bowers, Camden Krugh hooked up with Morris on a 20-yard touchdown pass, tying the game at 14-14 midway through the second quarter.
The Tigers nearly took the lead late in the first half when Carpenter was tackled near the East goalline, fumbling the ball out the back of the end zone to give the Vikings a touchback at their own 20.
The two teams would stay knotted at 14 heading into halftime.
Miami East will lose a talented group of seniors that made the playoffs ever year of their high school career. East’s starting line-up was comprised heavily of seniors.
“This group may be the best effort guys I’ve ever had,” Current said. “You saw their effort every Friday night. The fans who came out and watched them knew what kind of effort they always gave. We’ll miss this group.”
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong.