LIBERTY CENTER – In what was a tale of two halves, Swanton overcame an early deficit to outscore Liberty Center 21-5 in the second half for an important 28-15 victory Friday night on the road. It was also the final regular season home game for long-time Liberty Center coach Rex Lingruen.
“What grit. What passion,” said Bulldog head coach Mike Vicars of his team. “We talked about how much passion it would take for 48 minutes. When you turn the ball over four times and they’re in your end the whole first half, there are so many opportunities to quit. But I think this bunch of kids has shown all year long the grit, the determination, and the heart they have.
“So proud of them.”
Although Swanton had struggled out of the gate, they finally put together a drive before the end of the first half.
The drive was kick-started on a 13 yard catch and run by Gunnar Oakes which put the ball in Tiger territory at the 40 yard line. Oakes then caught one near the sideline to convert a third-and-10 with 25 seconds left in the half, putting the ball at the 27.
The very next play, Swanton quarterback Marek Spiess heaved one to the end zone where Oakes hauled it in with defenders all around him for the touchdown. That score and Nick Koback’s extra point cut Liberty Center’s lead to 10-7 at halftime.
“When it comes to this time of year you need your big guys to be special. Gunnar is super special,” said Vicars of his star receiver.
The Bulldogs continued that momentum into the third quarter.
After getting the ball to open the half, the big play of the possession was a connection between Spiess and Jonny Shanks on a quick slant for 44 yards down to the Tiger 24. Spiess later punched it in from a yard out to give Swanton their first lead of the game, 14-10, at the 7:34 mark.
“We put together a great, great drive that took half the quarter,” noted Vicars. “We really came alive and got our stuff together in the second half. Especially rushing the football.”
The Tigers would go three-and-out on the ensuing possession, their only time with the ball in the third quarter.
Swanton then matriculated the ball down the field from their own 20 yard line to the Liberty Center 30 on a drive that carried into the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-2 Oakes again came through, making a diving grab to give the Dogs a first down at the 26.
Running back Michael Lawniczak followed that up with runs of 10 and 5 yards, then Tim Rankin finished it off with a nine yard score to make it 21-10 with 10:14 to go.
Liberty Center responded with a nice lengthy drive of their own, however, from third-and-goal at the seven, Jarrett Krugh’s pass intended for Christian Chambers fell incomplete. This set up a 24 yard field goal from Orry Killam, his second of the day, which made it 21-13 with 5:20 remaining.
The Dogs did not leave room for doubt, as Lawniczak exploded through the line for a 10 yard touchdown with under three minutes to go that made it 28-13. They later took a intentional safety to equal the final score.
In the first half it was the Tigers who came out hot. Despite being stopped at the goal line by Swanton, they got on the board first with Killam’s 22 yard field goal 3:17 into the game.
Then, in the second quarter, one of Swanton’s four first half turnovers allowed the Tigers to get into the end zone. They were set up at the Bulldog 40 yard line after Zane Peterson jumped on a Swanton fumble.
Krugh then found an open Chambers down the middle of the field for 28 yards down to the 12. Five plays later, fullback Zack Carpenter bulled his way into the end zone for the 10-point advantage. He finished the game with 124 yards on 28 carries.
Leading Swanton’s rushing attack was Rankin who had 97 yards and a score on 15 carries. Lawniczak finished with 89 yards and a score on 23 carries. Spiess completed 6 of 11 passes for 128 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
The win was also big for the Dogs in that it likely clinched them their second straight playoff berth.
“If we don’t win (this game), we might be on the outside looking in and a pretty good football team I think,” said Vicars. “We are just blessed and pleased to live another day.”
Swanton (8-1) closes the regular season on the road at Delta (2-7) this coming Friday.
Reach Max at 419-335-2010.