The first round of the Division V playoffs wasn’t about West Liberty-Salem piling up touchdowns like it did all season. What the Tigers had to do more than anything Saturday night was keep Dayton Christian from doing the same thing.
Something had to give between two unbeaten teams, and it gave in West Liberty’s direction as the Tigers stopped the Warriors four times in the red zone, scored on two big plays and held on for 28-14 Region 20 quarterfinal victory.
The fourth-seeded Tigers (11-0), led by a senior class that has accumulated 40 victories, will play top-seeded Coldwater on a neutral field Saturday.
“We can beat Coldwater, I think,” Tigers quarterback Riley Sims said. “If we do, it’s no telling how far we can go.”
Faced with having to stop 2,000-yard back Heath Harding, WL-S kept him from breaking a long run and held him to 110 yards on 12 carries and one touchdown. Tigers coach Toby Smith said the Warriors were the most dangerous offensive team his team has faced, and Harding’s big-play ability is why Smith used the onside kick play on every kickoff.
“Our defense played outstanding,” Smith said. “That’s one heck of a running back. I’m really proud of the effort they gave and the discipline they showed in executing the game plan.”
The Warriors (10-1) were turned away at the Tigers’ 15 on fourth down in the first quarter. After WL-S took a 7-0 lead on Travis Mayse’s 64-yard run, Warriors’ quarterback Tanner Wall fumbled after his team had reached the 5-yard line with 3:50 left in the first quarter. The Warriors were also stopped on fourth-and-4 at the Tigers’ 14 in the third quarter and on fourth down at the 15 midway through the fourth.
“They were a better team than we were,” Warriors coach Dave Amlin said. “We had some opportunities because we have some skill people, but it’s tough even when you have good skill people.”
The Warriors tied it 7-7 on Wall’s 29-yard pass to Brandon Williams early in the second quarter. But the Tigers scored twice before halftime to lead 21-7 on a 7-yard run by Mayse and a 15-yard scramble by Sims.
Sims and Mayse and their blockers controlled the ball much of the game. Sims had 147 yards on 35 carries and Mayse had 140 on 12 carries. The Tigers rushed for 299 yards, and Sims also hooked up with Ross Hickenbottom on a screen pass that went 68 yards for a touchdown.
But all the Tigers wanted to talk about was the defense.
“We bend but we don’t ever break,” Sims said. “We kept making those guys line up and we stopped them and shut down Harding.”