Black Swamp Football

Championship Saturday: Liberty Center vs. Perry

Liberty Center standout lineman Landon Bockelman (75) blocks for Trenton Kruse during action earlier this season. The Tigers will play for the second state championship in program history on Saturday against Perry, who is also 15-0. The Division V state championship game will kickoff just after 3 p.m. at Canton's Tom Benson Stadium. Lynn Groll/BSF Photo

Liberty Center will meet Perry in the pinnacle of high school football for the two programs in the Division V state championship game on Saturday afternoon.

The title tilt is set for a 3 pm kickoff in Canton at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, which can be heard live on the Black Swamp Football Gamecast presented by 3Cord. Lynn Groll will have play by play and Tory Strock will handle the color commentary. Pregame will start at 2:30 pm. Listen live at either of the following links: https://network1sports.com/station/blackswampsports or blackswampfootball.com. 

The Tigers and Pirates are both 15-0 and sport impressive resumes. 

Casey Mohler’s Tigers have outscored their opponents 663-106 and Bob Gecewich’s Pirates have outscored their foes 558-93.

Perry is making its first appearance ever in the state championship.

“We’re pretty stoked to be here and pretty excited for the opportunity,” said Gecewich, who is in his third season leading the Pirates. “Perry’s a small, closed-enrollment community, so to be able to do it with our kids has been pretty awesome.”

Perry has just seven seniors on its roster. 

Gecewich was the head coach at Dublin Jerome before taking over Perry. He was 39-23 at Dublin Jerome and coached quarterbacks at Marion Local in 2013 and 2014 under legendary mentor Tim Goodwin. The Flyers won state titles both seasons.

Liberty Center is playing in its fourth state championship game and first since 1998, when it fell to Versailles, a year after romping over Amanda Clearcreek. Hall of Fame LC coach Rex Lingruen also took the Tigers to the 1993 state championship, where they fell to Steubenville Catholic Central. 

The football crazy community of Liberty Center will without a doubt invade Canton in full force. 

“I think our community support is second to none,” stated Mohler. “We roll up to a stadium about 5 o’clock and our fans are already at the gate waiting to get in and in the parking lot tailgating. It’s a community that loves their football team. We’re a small agricultural community and there’s nothing else going on in town. On Friday nights during football season, everybody is here and it doesn’t matter what the weather is. Their support has been unbelievable. You get an energy during the pregame and during the game you can feel. Certainly, kind of helps you out a little bit.

“Then with the expectations, we’ve had to talk about it with our kids that expectations were going to be high and we had to block that stuff out,” added Moher. “(Alabama coach) Nick Saban talks about that stuff as being rat poison if you start believing your clippings. We’re very conscious of telling them not to believe everything you read in the newspaper and your community and parents are telling you how great you are. When we’re at practice correcting mistakes should be the evidence we can get better and we’re not as good as everyone tells us we are.”

Perry will be the most dynamic offense that LC has faced this year. 

Perry’s 6-4, 182-pound junior quarterback Walter Moses (127-186 passing, 2,215 yards, 28 TDs) was named the Northeast District Offensive Player of Year and is surrounded by a plethora of weapons.

Jayden Studio (6-0, 201, sr.), who was injured in last week’s 22-8 win over Harvest Prep, leads the Pirates with 1,356 yards and 20 scores on 157 carries. He continued to play defense for the Pirates after the injury but did not play any more at running back.

Senior 6-0, 185-pound receiver Brayden Richards and 6-1, 187-pound junior receiver Luke Sivon are the favorite targets of Moses. Richards won the D-II state championship in the 300 hurdles in June and is also an AAU national champion in the decathlon. The blazing fast Richards has 42 grabs for 791 yards and eight scores while Sivon has 38 catches for 849 yards and 13 scores. 

Richards also has 394 yards rushing and six scores on 72 attempts. 

Owen McKoon (50 carries, 401 yards, 7 TDs) has backed up Studio.

Dane Pike (5-8, 157, so.) and Jimmy Ashburn (5-5, 139, so.) also start at receiver for the Pirates.

“The Richards kid is at a level we don’t see,” said Mohler. “Then you’ve got the Sivon kid out there.

“The Studio kid and McKoon kid are kids that can make big plays,” added Mohler. “To give ourselves a chance, we’re going to have to make them drive the field and not give up those big chunk yardage plays”

Up front, the Pirates start Chuck Thomas (6-2, 205, jr., LT), Joey Baldree (5-10, 166, jr., LG), Antonius Bertone (5-10, 188, so., C), Jack Knisely (6-0, 262, RG) and Anthony Zagrocki (6-2, 197, jr.) at right tackle. 

“The key is taking care of the football, and then the game is pretty much won on third downs,” Gecewich said. “The sooner each team feels the other one out and kind of gets a feel for what they can and can’t do, that team is going to give themselves an advantage.”

The LC defense has been special, allowing only 2,158 yards all season, including just 1,541 yards passing on 143-309 attempts. Opponents have been stymied by the Tigers’ defense when trying to run, gaining only 649 yards on 352 attempts.

“I think we’ve been really consistent all year in that front six,” said Mohler. “I think when times are tough and the pressure has been on in the playoffs, they’ve really stepped up to another to make plays. Specifically Landon Bockelman, against Coldwater he made a huge play with an interception and had a couple big sacks last week and fumble recovery. Then, against Oak Harbor, made some big hits on the quarterback when we really needed them. Seth Navarre is another one, making big plays against Coldwater late when we needed it. 

“It’s been the whole unit. The front six obviously help our back end and the back end has helped our front six to be able to do some things. It’s been a total team effort.”

The Tigers start Seth Navarre (6-3, 235, sr., 32 tackles, 7 sacks, 14 TFLs) and Landon Bockelman (6-3, 265, sr., 51 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 25 TFLs) at tackles while junior Zander Zeiter (6-0, 205, 57 stops, 6.5 sacks, 16 TFLs) mans the nose guard spot.

Trenton Kruse (6-0, 185, sr., 96 tackles), Colton Kruse (6-0, 185, sr., 55 tackles, 17 TFLs) and Garrison Kruse (6-2, 185, fr., 40 tackles) will start at linebacker.

Colton Chambers (5-11, 165, sr., 28 tackles, 2 INTs), Thomas Mohler (5-11, 165, so., 39 tackles, 4 INTs) and Landen Kruse (6-1, 175, sr., 56 tackles, 2 INTs) start at safety while Grady Miller (6-3, 195, jr., 26 tackles, 1 INT) and Cam Kahle (5-9, 155, jr., 30 tackles, 5 INTs) get the starting nods at cornerback.

“I think what has gotten us to this point is our defense and specifically our defensive line is our biggest strength along with our linebackers,” explained Mohler. “Our front six have been outstanding.”

The LC offense has gained 4,629 yards rushing and thrown for 1,139 yards.

Colton Kruse (1,535 yards, 141 rushes, 30 TDs) and Trenton Kruse (145 attempts, 1,270 yards, 22 TDs) power the rushing attack. 

Brady Giesige (6-1, 240, jr.) and Bockelman start at tackles in the LC offensive trenches while Navarre and Tyler Ley (5-5, 180, jr.) start at guard while Clayton Seel (5-11, 220, jr.) will be at center.

Brooks Behnfeldt (6-1, 185, sr., 7 catches, 113 yards, 1 TD) will be at tight end while Chambers plays wing back and Landen Kruse (21 catches, 366 yards, 3 TDs) is the top receiver. 

Senior Landon Amstutz will start at quarterback for the Tigers, where he is 69-116 passing for 1,025 yards and nine scores.

Perry will start Trent Taylor (6-4, 200, so., 32 tackles, 5 sacks) and Thomas ((2 tackles) at bookend with 5-5, 161-pound junior Drew Smith (50 tackles, 5 TFLs, 4 sacks) at nose guard.

Studio (58 tackles, 7 TFLs), McKoon (131 tackles, 11 TFLs, 5 sacks) and Dom LaMacchia (5-10, 171, sr. 81 tackles, 8 TFLs, 4 sacks) will be at linebacker while Armani Chiappone (5-10, 175, jr., 51 stops, 2 INTs), Richards (75 tackles) and Sivon (24 tackles, 5 INTS) start at safety. Vince Tomasic (6-0, 156, jr., 38 tackles, 5 INTs) and Moses (9 tackles) start at cornerback.

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