Whenever there were big pays to be made, Huron found a way to make them in its 28-14 win Saturday night against Findlay Liberty-Benton.
Senior Cody Thompson made a few of them for the Tigers, and so did teammate Spencer Maddox. It all added up to a double-digit victory against the previously unbeaten Eagles in a Division V Region 16 first-round game.
Though the Tigers (8-3) fell behind early after fumbling the opening kickoff, they scored 21 straight points, then turned things over to their defense to make the Eagles (9-1) earn their yards. Thompson threw a touchdown pass to Zach Souter, and ran for another while accounting for 206 yards of offense.
“We have some team speed,” Huron coach Tony Legando said. “We knew we had the explosiveness, we just didn’t know what was going to happen because film lies to you about speed a little bit. But we’re really happy with the end result obviously.”
The Tigers will face Loudonville (10-1) — ranked No. 9 in the final Associated Press poll — which beat West Salem Northwestern 20-8 in the first round, on Saturday night at a location to be determined today by the OHSAA. For now, they’ll savor the program’s first playoff win since 2005, a 10-3 victory over Ottawa-Glandorf in the second round.
Things didn’t look great when Huron fumbled away the opening kickoff, setting the Eagles up at the Tiger 16 yard line. Austin Combs, who scored both of the Eagles’ touchdowns, went in from the 2 yard line for an early 7-0 lead less than 3 minutes into the game.
“We’ve been in some tough ballgames this year, and our league gets us ready to play in some tough ballgames,” Legando said. “My hats off to the (Sandusky Bay Conference) because they make you play. That’s a good football team. They are well-coached and they’ve got a lot to be proud of.”
The Tigers had the answer. After starting at their own 16-yard line, the Tigers moved the ball to midfield, and Maddox took the handoff from Thompson, found space on the left edge and cut upfield for a 48-yard touchdown run that knotted the score.
On the following drive, Thompson used his legs to make the big play, dashing 74 yards to the Eagle 1. Tommy Bogden went in two plays later for a 14-7 lead with 10:41 left in the second quarter.
Huron’s third big play of the night was Thompson’s 11-yard scoring pass to Zach Souter, as the quarterback bought time by scrambling to the sideline, then threw back to the wide-open Souter in the middle of the end zone. That made it 21-7 with 1:48 left in the first half.
“He’s a special athlete. That’s why he’s going to Toledo,” Legando said. “He uses his tools well. And I’m going to say this because you can’t say it after you get beat and are banged up, but we had to play a lot of people, young people, but it’s a good thing for the Huron football program.”
After Liberty-Benton got within a touchdown, Thompson hooked up with Nick Stauffer for a 43-yard completion down the left sideline, setting up first and goal at the 1. Thompson went in two plays later for the final score of the night.
Maddox finished the night with 108 yards on just four carries — he had a 54-yard run in the third quarter, but the Tigers gave the ball away on downs — and Thompson finished with 111 yards rushing, 95 yards passing and had an interception on defense with 4:12 left in the game.
Coombs, who finished the night with 118 yards on 18 carries, scored his other touchdown late in the third quarter from a yard out to keep Liberty-Benton in the game at 21-14. The Eagles had to convert fourth and 10 from the Huron 16, as quarterback Nathan Craft (17 of 28 for 142 yards) found Chase Cook for 15 yards. Cook led all receivers with seven catches for 52 yards.
“It seemed like we would struggle. We would put together nine or ten plays and whatever would come of our drive, and they’d cover the field in two or three plays,” Liberty-Benton coach Tim Nichols said. “They get to move on, and we don’t.”