Huron quarterback Cody Thompson spent plenty of time Saturday going backwards with the ball against the Loudonville defense, but just when it looked like the Redbirds had him in their grasp one more time, the senior saved the Tigers’ season.
With his team trailing 13-10 and facing a third-and-5 from Loudonville’s 33-yard line with 1:33 left in their Division V Region 16 semifinal, Thompson spun away from a would-be sack to keep the play alive. Scrambling left, he settled and heaved a pass near the right sideline to Tommy Bogden, who reeled it in at the 2, then punched it in one play later to send the Huron sideline into hysteria.
The Redbirds had taken their first lead of the game a little more than 2 minutes earlier, but it was the Tigers surviving, 17-13, as Thompson picked off Loudonville quarterback Kolton Edmondson near midfield with less than a minute remaining.
“We work scramble drills all the time and (Bogden) just leaked down the sideline ... and we just executed it perfectly,” said Thompson, who offset Huron’s rough night on the ground with 208 yards on 18-of-25 passing.
The seventh-seeded Tigers (9-3) advanced to play defending Division V state champion and fifth-seeded Coldwater (10-2), which pounded No. 8 seed Chippewa on Saturday, 49-21.
It will be Huron's first trip to the regional championship since 2005 — where they lost to Coldwater.
Thompson’s late heroics sent home a Loudonville team (10-2) that was in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since finishing as a state runner-up in 1990. The Redbirds largely sealed off the edges in the Tigers’ run game (27 carries, minus-2 yards), dropping Thompson for lost yardage on seven of his 15 carries, but the Toledo-bound quarterback made them miss at the right times.
“He did it when he had to do it, he’s a good athlete,” Huron coach Tony Legando said of the dual-threat Thompson (15 carries, two yards). “That’s a good football team, they made us work for every inch that we got and I think we made them work, too. That was a good, hard-fought battle. I think both teams played with a lot of class, a lot of pride.”
The Redbirds hadn’t led the entire game until finally stringing together a drive late in the fourth that resulted in Edmondson’s second 1-yard scoring plunge. On that 14-play, 63-yard, 6-minute possession, Loudonville picked up first downs on a pair of Huron penalties and converted a pair of fourth-down plays, including the TD run by Edmondson (31 carries, 97 yards; 4 of 12, 41 yards passing).
That made it 13-10, but just when the Loudonville faithful started to think about playing for a regional title, Thompson and the Tigers struck back for their game-winning score. The quarterback hit Zach Souter (nine catches, 62 yards) three times to open the drive, and Huron — which had been 2 for 10 on third-down plays in the game at that point — converted two third downs to make the comeback.
“We had three timeouts with (3:38) left in the game, so that’s an eternity,” Thompson said. “... We had a great drive, our coaches handled it perfectly and we executed well.”
“I don’t think they did anything (on the last drive) other than what they had done all night,” Loudonville coach Justin Todd siad. “... At some point, somebody’s gotta win and lose, and (Thompson) made a great play.”
Until the two late touchdowns, the teams had played to a second-half stalemate, with Huron carrying the 10-6 lead it had at halftime deep into the fourth quarter.
The Tigers had a plan to go to the air early on, with Thompson and Souter hooking up seven times for 49 yards in the first half. Overall in the first half, Thompson was 11 of 16 for 120 yards, dwarfing his passing numbers from Huron’s opening-round win at Liberty-Benton (6 of 7, 95 yards).
The big strike came late in the first half when — after an 11-yard loss on a sack by Ryan Weber left the Tigers facing third and 12 at the Redbirds' 44 — Thompson got away from pressure, rolled left and lofted a completion to Spencer Maddox for 40 yards.
The Redbird defense stiffened, holding Huron out of the end zone with another sack, but the Tigers’ Pat Dusza hammered a 32-yard field goal to make it 10-6 with 2:39 to play before intermission.
In the first quarter, Thompson cracked the scoreboard with a 29-yard run to make it 7-0. The senior QB converted a fourth-and-2 run at the Loudonville 33 to make those points a reality.
Both teams traded possessions after that before the Redbirds could get their first points. After Thompson was forced to punt out of his own end zone, Loudonville capped a 31-yard drive with a 1-yard Edmondson run.
The Redbirds decided to go for a direct-snap, two-point run attempt with Weber, but he was stuffed, and Loudonville trailed 7-6 with 8:31 left in the half.
Penalties were a constant hassle for the Tigers, who were flagged 11 times for 115 yards in the game, with 80 of those penalty yards coming in the second half. But Huron overcame those with a steady dose of big defensive plays from Souter (team-high seven tackles), Bogden (six) and Danzell Harris (three tackles for loss).
It was the sixth time in the last seven weeks the Tigers have held a team to 14 points or less.
“We put a new defense in at the beginning of the year,” Legando said, “and I think it’s starting to sprout.”