WAPAKONETA — The ball flew up like toast out of the toaster and was bouncing across the heart of the end zone.
When the ball reached the giant A in the “Wapak” end zone, a huge pile of bodies completely covered the ball.
After the bodies were pried loose, it was Liberty-Benton’s ball and L-B’s game.
Liberty-Benton recovered the Lima Central Catholic fumble in the end zone and held on for a 24-17 overtime victory over LCC in the Division V regional semifinals Saturday at Harmon Field.
L-B scored first in overtime on a 3-yard run by quarterback Mitch Linhart to give the Eagles a 24-17 lead.
After an incomplete pass, LCC had a second down at the 20. Ryan Pitts took a pitch and swept the left side. Pitts reached the 5 before he was hit by Chase Cook. The ball came flying out and rolled into the heart of the end zone. After the unpiling, it was L-B’s Brandon May who came out with it.
It was the second year in a row that L-B knocked out LCC in the playoffs.
“We have the most respect for each other’s programs,” Linhart said. “There were a lot of guys doubting we could do it two years in a row, so it’s huge for our team.”
L-B (11-1) advances to the regional finals against Patrick Henry. LCC ends its year 11-1.
“Our kids played hard and their kids played hard,” LCC coach Jerry Cooper said. “The ball just bounced Liberty-Benton’s way, a lot like it did last year.”
The game went into overtime after LCC blocked a 40-yard field goal attempt by Linhart with no time left on the clock. Linhart had earlier hit a 40-yard field goal with plenty to spare in the first quarter.
“I think that (the block) showed the heart of our kids,” Cooper said. “We made a good play.”
But the Eagles didn’t let the blocked field goal slow them down. They took the ball first in the overtime and scored on five plays.
“I think I kicked it kind of low,” Linhart said of the block. “It happens. … We got our guys together and talked about the McComb game (a loss in overtime). We knew we had been in this position before. We reminded our guys to stay calm.”
Added L-B coach Tim Nichols, “It sounded good off his foot. It probably affected me more than them.”
On the first play of overtime, Linhart hit Joel Bell on a swing pass for 14 to take the ball to the LCC 6. Two plays later, L-B reached the 1, but an offsides call pushed it back to the 6.
Linhart then scrambled, lost 1 yard, but a grabbing-the-facemask penalty was called on LCC. That gave L-B a first-and-goal from the LCC 3. Linhart scored on the next play.
“We felt they were really sitting on the run and doing a lot of blitzing on us on first down,” Nichols said. “We wanted to come out and hit some short stuff and we did.”
Linhart finished with a team-high 65 yards rushing on 21 carries. In the air, he completed 17 of 26 for 147 yards and one TD.
L-B’s Austin Combs ran for 60 yards on 19 carries.
For LCC, Colin Stolly fought cramps in the second half, but returned to complete 6 of 12 for 72 yards with one interception. Kalito Lasenby ran for 64 yards on 14 carries.
Lasenby played tailback for Jon Washington (shoulder), who didn’t dress for the game.
LCC went 54 yards in eight plays on the first drive. Mykale Rogers’ 3-yard TD sweep made it 7-0.
Linhart rammed home a 40-yard field goal to get the Eagles to 7-3.
LCC made it 14-3 on a 19-yard TD pass from Stolly to Darius West on a wide receiver screen.
Linhart’s 1-yard TD run brought L-B within 14-10 with 4:22 left until halftime.
L-B, which used its ground game in the first half, went to the air in the second half. The Eagles had a 14-play, 82-yard drive to score again. Linhart’s 29-yard TD pass to Kyle Bowsher made it 17-14 Eagles with 6:59 left in the third.
“Penalties and the ball bounced their way,” Cooper said. “I wish them luck and I give them credit.”