Lorain's Kevin Torres walks off the field as Olentangy Liberty celebrates its win. DAVID RICHARD / CHRONICLE
MADISON TWP. — With time winding down in the fourth quarter Friday and things looking bleak, Lorain found a lifeline.
A 59-yard reverse flea flicker from receiver Daesean Brooks to a wide-open Zion Cross went for 59 yards and suddenly gave the Titans hope, not to mention four cracks at an improbable game-winning touchdown from the 14 with 26 seconds left to play.
It turned out to be false hope, however, as junior quarterback Justin Sturgill fired four incomplete passes into the end zone, ending the Titans’ bid for a trip to the state tournament.
Final score: Top-seeded Olentangy Liberty 24, Lorain 20 at Mansfield Madison’s Ram Field at StarTek Stadium.
The Patriots (13-0) rallied from 10 points down to advance to play St. Ignatius in a state semifinal next Friday at a site to be determined. Lorain (10-3) had its 10-game winning streak dashed along with its dream of winning the first regional football championship in Lorain City Schools history.
“Give Liberty a lot of credit — they’re a great football team and I thought they wore us down,” Lorain coach Dave McFarland said. “Our guys gave us about every ounce they had, but they made some great plays, and that’s what championship football is all about.
“We had a chance to win at the end of the game, and I couldn’t be any prouder of our guys. You watch our young men out there and they played with great pride and they represented Lorain and their school well.”
Lorain drew first blood with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Sturgill to Brooks, took a 12-10 lead into the locker room and opened the second half with a nine-play, 67-yard scoring drive capped by a 19-yard run by Sturgill. The 2-point conversion by Aaron Huff made the score 20-10.
After the defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, the Titans seemed poised to celebrate for the third consecutive Friday night.
But injuries seemed to finally catch up to Lorain. Missing senior right tackle Sly Worthy due to surgery on a torn thumb ligament, the running game struggled to get anything going. Senior Carlos Chavis, needing 114 yards to become Lorain’s all-time career rushing leader, was held to just 65 on 22 carries for a 3.0 average, while Huff was held to 39 yards on 12 carries.
“Liberty is a very disciplined team and they just capitalized on our mistakes,” Chavis said. “We had some miscommunication and we’re gonna have to fix that next year. They capitalized on our mistakes. Usually teams watch me on film and stack the box, but usually we’re a threat on the passing game.
“We’ve been good in the passing game lately. I guess the passing game wasn’t as great today. It was a challenge for the line, and having our captain, Sly Worthy out, it left a big impact.”
On the defensive side, middle linebacker and team defensive MVP Quentin Pardon suffered a knee injury and missed several plays. He did return, but didn’t appear to be 100 percent.
“Both teams were pretty beat up, but it became a bit of a numbers game in the second half,” McFarland said. “Our left tackle (Myron Wilson) was playing with a sprained ankle and we had a backup at right tackle, and that certainly hurt our running game a lot. But there’s no excuses — they played a great game.”
Special teams plagued Liberty for most of the first half. An opening 13-play, 38-yard drive was wasted thanks to a missed 25-yard field goal, and an ill-advised 51-yard field goal attempt with 6:24 left in the first half wound up costing the Patriots even more.
A.J. Smith’s kick not only came up well short, it fell into the waiting arms of Chavis at his own 1. Cutting and darting through a shocked Liberty kicking team, Chavis turned it into a “kick-6,” scoring on a 99-yard return. The Titans failed on the 2-point conversion, but still led 12-3.
“I thought we struggled a little bit early,” Liberty coach Steve Hale said. “It was our first time in a regional championship and we had some nerves, I think. I thought our kids fought through a lot of adversity and came out at the end victorious.
“Lorain’s a really good football team — a really good football team. Coach (McFarland) has done an amazing job there and they play hard. They come after you and they’ve got some really good players. I thought our kids fought through it all the way until the very end.”
After opening the second half with a touchdown, Lorain had five more possessions. One resulted in a punt — the rest ended on failed fourth-down conversions.
Meanwhile, Liberty finally took advantage of winning the field-position battle and the bend-but-don’t-break Lorain defense finally snapped. Aided by a 15-yard personal foul following an incomplete pass on fourth down, the Patriots marched 52 yards in seven plays, capped by a 1-yard touchdown from Ohio State recruit Brendon White to cut the deficit to 20-17 after three.
Then, after a nice punt return and another 15-yard personal foul on Lorain, Liberty took five plays to drive 23 yards for the winning touchdown. White, out of a Wildcat formation, found Johnny Wiseman on a 3-yard slant with 10:55 left in the game.
“We just stuck together,” White said. “We’ve been in the position before. I just try to be coachable and run the play as it’s drawn up. I want to make plays with the ball in my hands, and I had the chance to do so on both of our scoring drives. I had confidence I could get it done and my team could get it done, and we did.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DanGilles1973.
Olentangy Liberty 24, Lorain 20
Lorain 6 6 8 0 — 20
Liberty 0 10 7 7 — 24
L -- Daesean Brooks, 37 pass from Justin Sturgill (pass failed)
OL -- A.J. Smith, 22 field goal
L -- Carlos Chavis, 99 missed field goal return (pass failed)
OL -- Ben Rinsma, 28 pass from Mitchell Okuley (Smith kick)
L -- Chuck Sturgill, 19 run (Aaron Huff run)
OL -- Brendon White, 1 run (Smith kick)
OL -- Johnny Wiseman, 3 pass from White (Smith kick)
First downs 15 12
— by rushing 8 6
— by passing 4 5
— by penalty 3 1
Yards rushing 142 93
Yards passing 156 153
Total offense 298 246
Passes att./comp. 28/9 29/14
Intercepted by 1 1
Fumbles/lost 0/0 0/0
Penalties/yards 8/84 9/93
RUSHING — (L) Carlos Chavis 22-65, Aaron Huff 12-39, Justin Sturgill 7-27, Zion Cross 2-11. (OL) Matthew Webb 21-87, Brendon White 8-11, Mitchell Okuley 2-0.
PASSING — (L) Justin Sturgill 8-27-97-1-1; Daesean Brooks 1-1-59-0-0. (OL) Mitchell Okuley 12-26-122-0-1; Brendon White 2-3-31-2-0.
RECEIVING — (L) Zion Cross 2-59, Daesean Brooks 3-59, Carlos Chavis 2-20, Naz Bohannon 2-18. (OL) Ben Rinsma 4-92, Brendon White 4-28, Drew Rossi 4-28, Johnny Wiseman 1-3, Matthew Webb 1-2.