In what was the biggest game of the season for both teams, the Huron Tigers rose to the challenge and defeated Oak Harbor 32-26 in a hard-fought, back-and-forth slugfest Friday Night in Oak Harbor.
In a game that Huron needed to win to keep any hopes alive for a chance to qualify for the state playoffs, the Tigers rallied from 9-0 and 23-7 deficits to take the lead for good late in the third quarter when Brian Bollenbacher hit Jake Hillman for a 20-yard touchdown pass.
With the win, Huron improves to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the Sandusky Bay Conference. Oak Harbor is now 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the conference. Because of Clyde's 20-17 overtime loss to Perkins, there is a three-way tie for first-place with Clyde, Oak Harbor and Huron.
The turning point of the game came late in the first half when the Tigers, outplayed to that point, cut the lead to 23-13 when Sean Fantozz caught a 9-yard touchdown from Bollenbacher with 35 seconds remaining. On the two-point conversion, Bollenbacher hit Brandon Krueger, making it 23-15 Oak Harbor.
"I thought it was big," said Huron head coach Tony Legando. "It gets the kids believing. You can't have a comeback unless they believe. We have had flashes of that brilliance throughout the season, but never sustained it this long. You see the result of it. It's pretty sweet."
Huron came out strong in the third quarter, forcing a three-and-out for the Rockets before driving 40 yards to the Oak Harbor 12-yard line. On third and 5, Bollenbacher found Hillman, who made a one-handed catch in the end zone. After the two-point conversion failed, the Rockets still maintained a 23-21 lead.
Huron intercepted a pass and drove 66 yards in 6 plays to take the lead on Bollenbacher's 20-yard touchdown pass to Hillman, and made it 29-23 when Bollenbacher hit Justin Hicks for the two-point conversion.
An indication of just how closely-fought the game was, Oak Harbor outgained Huron by just 19 yards, 366-347.
"Offensively, overall I thought our kids played really," said Oak Harbor coach Mike May. "We fought all the way to the end. Offensively, we did what we needed to do to win the ball game.
"This is on me. I called the defense, I set up the defensive game plan. Defensively, when we needed to get stops and we didn't. They were able to convert some third downs, keep the chains moving. They were able to keep some drives going, made some big plays. Both teams played hard. They just made a few more plays than we did."
Oak Harbor controlled the game for much of the first half, grabbing a 6-0 lead on Jake Scott's 40-yard touchdown run with 6:14 remaining in the first quarter. The missed PAT left the score at 6-0.
On Huron's next play from scrimmage, the Tigers ran the option, but Bollenbacher's pitch for Trae Graham was fumbled and recovered by Oak Harbor's Davey Burkett at the 11-yard line, giving the Rockets excellent field position. Three consecutive Jake Scott runs netted only seven yards, and Oak Harbor was forced to settle for a 21-yard Myles Backus field goal, giving them a 9-0 lead.
Huron moved the ball on its ensuing drive, but was forced to kick it away. On the return, Burkett muffed the punt and the Tigers recovered, giving them a first down at the Oak Harbor 16-yard line. Three plays later, on third and seven, Bollenbacher found Brandon Krueger over the middle on a crossing pattern to put the Tigers on the board. John Dusza's extra point cut the lead to 9-7.
The Rockets responded with a 12-play, 65-yard drive, scoring on Kyle Mincheff 1-yard run with 5:02 remaining in the second quarter. Backus' extra point made it 16-7. The key play of the drive came on 3rd-and-12 at the Huron 14 when Oak Harbor ran an inside handoff to Scott, who barreled ahead for 11 yards, setting up a 4th-and-1, which the Rockets converted on the next play.
Scott had another brilliant performance, finishing with 241 all-purpose yards. He rushed for 178 yards on 20 carries and caught two passes for 63 yards.
The Rockets then forced the Tigers to go three-and-out, taking over at their own 40-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Scott ran around the left end for what appeared to be a minimal gain, but he broke a few tackles and darted to the outside, outrunning Huron defenders to the end zone for the score. With the extra point, Oak Harbor had a 23-7 lead with 2:50 remaining in the first half.
But in the end, it was Huron who came through with enough big plays to eek out the victory.
"This team has heart," said Legando. "They have worked hard. They deserve this."
Huron 0 15 14 3 — 32
Oak Harbor 9 14 0 3 — 26
OH — Jake Scott 40 run (kick failed)
OH — Myles Backus 21 field goal
H — Brian Bollenbacher 13 pass to Brandon Krueger (John Dusza kick)
OH — Kyle Mincheff 1 run (Backus kick)
OH — Steve Young 60 pass to Jake Scott (Backus kick)
H — Bollenbacher 6 pass to Sean Fantozz (Bollenbacher pass to Krueger)
H — Bollenbacher 12 pass to Jake Hillman (pass failed)
H — Bollenbacher 20 pass to Hillman (Dusza kick)
H — Dusza 30 field goal
OH — Backus 28 field goal
Game Stats H OH
First Downs 17 18
Rushing Attempts-Yards 32-163 29-196
Passing Yards 184 1700
Passing Comp-Att.-Int 18-27-0 16-26-1
Penalties - Yards 2-12 6-30
Fumbles - Lost 1-1 1-1
Rushing — (H) Troy Delamatre 13-110; Justin Hicks 11-35; Brian Bollenbacher 5-27; Trae Graham 2-(-9); (OH) Jake Scott 20-178; Kyle Mincheff 4-14; Steve Young 5-7; Mark Konieczny 1-2
Passing — (H) Bollenbacher 18-27-184-4-0; (OH) Young 16-26-170-0-1
Receiving — (H) Jake Hillman 7-64; Hicks 5-56; Brandon Krueger 4-50; Sean Fantozz 2-14; (OH) Jake Scott 3-63; Josh Warnke 5-35; Davey Burkett 4-29; D.J. Everett 1-22; Zach Priesman 4-21