By Drew Terhall
WEST LIBERTY — It was a tale of two halves at West Liberty-Salem in the Division VI, Region 24 football playoffs. The Tri-Village Patriots committed multiple mistakes, but were only down 23-15 at halftime.
Senior Reed Wehr put the team on his back to help his team move on with a 50-29 win over the fourth seed West Liberty-Salem Tigers. Wehr had seven total touchdowns in the game. He was responsible for every Tri-Village touchdown.
Head coach Matt Hopkins said Wehr showed why he is one of the best players in the area.
“I’ll die on this hill, that kid is the best player in Southwest Ohio. I’m telling you that right now. It’s a shame he didn’t get player of the year in the league. I’m almost glad because now he’s got a chip on his shoulder and he’s playing to prove people wrong,” Hopkins said.
The first few minutes of the first quarter went well for the Patriots. They got a stop on fourth down and scored on their first play of their first possession. Senior Braden Keating found Wehr for a 60-yard touchdown pass.
But then the Tigers responded. Senior Gabe McGill scored from six yards out to tie the game. A few Tri-Village penalties helped extend the West Liberty scoring drive.
Later after Tri-Village was pinned deep in their own territory near the goal line on a misplayed punt return, Wehr tried to make a play on fourth down as the punter. He was tackled in the endzone for a West Liberty safety. Wehr said he tried to do too much there and learned from the mistake.
McGill scored again on the drive after the safety from four yards out to go up 16-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, Wehr took the kickoff to the house for 70+ yards. Tri-Village got the two-point conversion and were only down 15-16.
But then again, West Liberty drove down the field and McGill scored on a one-yard run to go up 23-15 just as the first half was winding down.
Hopkins said the team was too juiced up in the first half and that led way to the many mistakes they made. But, the Patriots were able to put the first half behind them and came out strong in the second half.
“I’m going to quote Coach Prime, we played like hot garbage in that first half. I coached like hot garbage in the first half. These guys responded, they weren’t ready to be done. They play a great, great second half,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said they played their game in the second half and that led them to the win.
On the opening kickoff in the second half, West Liberty tried to avoid Wehr. That didn’t work as the ball bounced towards Wehr and he took it to the house again for a kickoff return touchdown.
“I realized they weren’t going to kick it to me, so I told my pals Paul and Tanner, ‘Back off, let me get this. I’m going to go house this.’ I saw a hole and I cut up and left them in the dust,” Wehr said.
The Patriots were only down 21-23 at the start of the third quarter. After getting the ball back , Tri-Village drove down the field on a scoring drive for the first time in the game. Wehr scored on a five-yard run to take a 29-23 lead.
Momentum quickly shifted around after the 7:33 minute mark of the third quarter. West Liberty converted on a fake punt at midfield to get a first down at the Tri-Village 37-yard line. But the Patriots responded as sophomore Trey Sagester snagged an interception to get the ball back.
Two plays later, the Tigers scored on a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown to tie the game at 29-29 with 4:24 left in the third quarter.
Ten seconds later, Wehr scored a 40+ yard touchdown run to take a 36-29 lead. Wehr added on a 24-yard touchdown run in the final seconds of the third quarter.
In the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, junior Kaeden Lipps recovered a fumble to set up another 40+ yard touchdown run by Wehr.
Throughout the game, Wehr was dealing with an injury. He said he fought through the injury to be there for his team. His teammates responded by joining him in playing a great second half.
“Our line, I get on them quite a bit. They’re young. We lost all of our guys last year to graduate and these guys have stepped up. I appreciate them for that. Our defense, they stood up. We like to resemble ourselves as the 2000 Baltimore Ravens when they were playing,” Wehr said.
The only score from West Liberty was on the pick six. Outside of that, the Patriots defense shut down the run game and didn’t let the Tigers drive deep into their territory.
Hopkins said they focused on trying to stop McGill, who had 30 rushing touchdowns on the season. Once the second half started, they were shutdown.
“All 11 of them played just mean, nasty. We got after people and tackled better. That was what we talked about all week long. We had to tackle, we had to tackle 21 (McGill). We did a really good job of that in the second half,” Hopkins said.
The fifth seeded Patriots will take on the eighth seed Anna in a neutral site game on Nov. 10. The location will be announced on Nov. 5.
Contact Daily Advocate sports editor Drew Terhall at [email protected]