By Randy Bruns
LIMA -- The Versailles Tigers had tradition and experience on their side in Friday night's Division V playoff game, but the Lima Central Catholic Thunderbirds showed why these games are played on the field and not on paper.
The T-Birds controlled the action and never trailed in the game, but had to withstand a pair of furious Tiger drives in the game's waning moments before escaping with a 21-20 victory.
Versailles ends its season at 9-2, while LCC moves to 10-1 and will play Anna next week in a site to be determined on Sunday.
The Tigers came into the game having not lost a first-round game to a non-Midwest Athletic Conference team since their first playoff appearance in 1985. Overall, Versailles sported a 43-9 record in the playoffs to go with its six state titles. LCC, on the other hand, hadn't been to the playoffs since 1989 and had never won a postseason contest.
None of that mattered Friday night. The T-Birds did something few other teams have been able to do to the Tigers -- outgain them on the ground. In fact, it wasn't even close, as the T-Birds ground out 247 yards on just 34 attempts while holding the vaunted Tiger rushing attack to just 152 yards on 48 totes.
Still, Versailles had its chances to pull this one out, but two crucial possessions at the end of the game came up empty.
Trailing 21-14, the Tigers got the ball at their own 32 yard-line with just over five minutes left. A key pass interference call on LCC gave the Tigers the ball at the T-Bird 14, and after two unsuccessful runs Curtis Wourms caught a screen pass from Tony McNeilan and sprinted into the end zone for what looked like the tying score.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, the extra-point attempt sailed wide right and kept them on the short end of a 21-20 score.
With just 54 seconds remaining, Versailles attempted an onside kick and hit the jackpot when Jordan Liette came down with the ball at the LCC 48 yard-line. After a sack and an incompletion, McNeilan hit Andrew Platfoot for 13 yards and then found Wourms on another screen pass to bring the ball to the T-Bird 19.
An incompletion left just 12 seconds on the clock, and McNeilan hit Matt Murphy in the left flat with some running room ahead of him. While attempting to get out of bounds, though, Murphy slipped and fell, and with no timeouts remaining the Tigers saw the final seconds tick off the clock.
"That was just tough after coming back like that," said Versailles coach Al Hetrick. "LCC played an excellent game, they're a tough football team and they just out-ran and out-tackled us. We came back and had an opportunity at the end. I'm just proud of the kids and the way they played."
The Tigers were behind the eight-ball all night, as the T-Birds mixed the run and pass effectively to keep the Tigers's defense off guard. A 33-yard touchdown run by Adam Good began the scoring in the first quarter, but Versailles responded late in the half when Curtis Wourms scored from nine yards out.
LCC started the second half by scoring on just four plays to take a seven-point lead, but Versailles countered again. A 15-play drive, highlighted by a pass from punter Zac Richard on fourth down, to tie things up at 14-apiece when Wourms blasted over from one yard out.
LCC, which missed a field goal in each half, scored the deciding points in the fourth quarter when it put together a 16-play drive the culminated with Good's third run to paydirt on the night.
While the Tigers were certainly favored in this one by most observers, they were battling a T-Bird team headed by first-year coach Jerry Cooper, who has a reputation as a turnaround specialist and won a state title with Columbus Grove in 2003.
"(Versailles) is real physical and we didn't think we could knock them around with slow-developing plays, so everything we did was real quick and right at them," said Cooper. "We worked our gameplan about as well as we could. Give all the credit to the kids, they worked their tails off and they believed in each other. I'm still not convinced that we're better than Versailles, but we'll take a win and play next week."