Liberty Union was clinging to a 13-7 lead Saturday against then-undefeated Lucasville Valley as time was winding down in the first half of the Division V, Region 19 championship game. The Indians were inside the Lions' 20-yard line when what might have been the game's biggest play was made by a player with more than football on his mind.
The ball popped out of the hands of Valley's running back and fell straight into the arms of senior Greg Underwood. The linebacker ran 80 yards, giving the Lions a two-score lead heading into intermission.
Underwood's grandfather passed away earlier in the week.
"I don't know if that inspired him or he was playing for grandpa," coach Dan Johnson said. "There's a guy who missed over half of the regular season with a broken hand. He's come back and now he's making plays, game winning plays."
Although Underwood made key plays after returning from injury, numerous Lions stepped up to fill the void of injured players in Saturday's game.
Liberty Union was without defensive tackle Luke Hannan, the Division V Central District Defensive Player of the Year; Just Reeves, astarting wide receiver and linebacker; and Makiah Sorrell, the starting offensive guard and defensive end. All three were injured in the regional semifinals on Nov. 10.
"We had some backup kids fill in and they just did an amazing job," Johnson said. "They didn't play like backups. We were playing by platoons."
Cory Miller, Hannan's cousin, and Josh Parsley rotated in to fill Hannan's position on the line while Parker Bozman handled long-snapping duties. Sophomore Ethan Schmelzer filled in for Sorrell at guard while Chase Pettitt filled in on the defensive line. Tyler Magley and Adam Snyder replaced Reeves on offense with Loan Piccirillo handling the defensive duties.
Magley caught a touchdown on the game's first drive.
"Coach Johnson has stressed next guy in needs to step up, I think we did that," he said. "Guys are stepping up as we get deeper in our lineup."
Replacing two defensive lineman might have been the toughest task for the Lions as the Indians used a power running attack. Valley did amass 223 rushing yards, but Lions' defense was able to limit Valley's overall effectiveness with four turnovers.
"It's phenomenal, I'll tell you that," Johnson said . "It's what you've got to do to win."
Liberty Union advanced to the state semifinals where Kirtland awaits.
Defensive end Jesse Shirey said he told Hannan, a team captain, the Lions still would be playing on the last weekend in November.
"All week I was telling him we are going to play next week," he said.