In a game that was not decided until the last minute North fell to the West Liberty Salem Tigers 21-14. When two closely matched teams play many times it is the team that makes the fewest mistakes that gets the victory. And for the second time in the playoffs North’s first play from scrimmage resulted in a fumble. And that seemed to set the tone for the night as North squandered several opportunities due to penalties and turnovers.
The Tigers defense did play North tough and they bent several times – allowing North inside their 30 7 times, but stopping the drive each time. North would only punt 1 time on the night, but failed to convert on 4th down 4 times and gave up 3 turnovers. A ball control team can’t afford to be in long yardage situations and several times penalties moved the ball backwards. Still North battled back against adversity and made some good defensive stands themselves. Defensively they did a fair job against the run, and although North seemed to adjust to the pass in the second half, the Tigers did the most damage in the air.
The Tigers made some big plays on offense. After recovering the opening fumble from North they ran a draw play on third and long and scored first on a 37 yard run. North was able to respond when Colton Booth threw a 16 yard strike to Blake Lawson. The Tigers would close out the first quarter with a long touchdown pass – again on a third and long play that would go 74 yards.
In the second quarter, both teams had several drives end deep in enemy territory. Trey Summers stopped one Tiger drive with a fumble recovery. And the Tigers stopped two drives where North failed to convert on 4th down. North held firm right before the end of half when the Tigers went for it on 4th down at the 19 yard line. So both defenses made big plays to keep the second quarter scoreless.
The Tigers got their last score of the night midway in the 3rd quarter, a 16 yard pass that made it a 2 touchdown lead. This following sequence points out one of many squandered opportunities for North. Austin Elmore had several good kick returns on the night. But his best was a punt return to the Tiger 26 yard line in the 3rd quarter. But from there North went backwards. They gave up a sack and then on third and long a holding penalty turned a completed pass into a loss. Then on 4th and forever the snap was mishandled and the Tigers recovered the ball. It was almost a complete disaster, but North kept the Tigers from scoring again.
North would score with 5 minutes left in the game. A poor punt combined with a good return by Colton Overholtz gave North the ball at the 18 yard line. The next play Colton Booth connected with Garrett Woodyard to make it a one touchdown game 21-14. The onsides kick failed, but North held the Tigers to 3 plays and a punt. With just under 2 minutes left in the game, North began a drive on their own 10 with no time outs left. But after getting a couple of first downs the Tigers crushed North’s hope for a last minute comeback when they picked off a pass and ended North’s season.
It has been a record setting year for North. 10-1 on the season, league champs, first playoff victory ever. The seniors are the first class ever to go to the play offs all 4 years. So the North has a lot to be proud of this season. And the playoff loss – a lot of coulda, shoulda’s. With all the mistakes and turnovers, they still were in the game all the way to the end. Coach Derringer and the coaching staff are also to be commended – high school football takes a lot of time and dedication to the program. In recent years North has reloaded each fall, so there a system in place that creates winners.
“Mistakes killed us,” lamented coach Derringer after the game, “We came out and made mistakes in the first half. Then we gave up some big plays to them. We adjusted our pass coverage and that seemed to have that fixed. We just didn’t play well tonight. But every kid gave it their all.”
He continued, “We have had a great season and a fantastic run. I am proud of each and every one of the kids – we fought and fought and fought. It was 21-14 and we got the ball and were driving at the end. I have to give credit to West Liberty they deserve the win – they held us on every 4th down we had deep in their territory. If we make any one of those and punch it in, then it’s a different ball game. Their linebackers did a good job of blowing up our isolation plays. They are big up front and have good skill players.”
Finally, “They have been a great group of seniors. They have been good leaders all year. The first group in Preble County to go to the playoffs all four years. And there are the unsung heroes - several seniors did not get that much playing time. But they came to practice every day, they worked hard, they tried to make us better. It was a group effort out of this senior class. I told them they did something that no one else at North has ever done. This year was a special year - it was a great run.”