For all the times Liberty Union's defense made a game-clinching play this season, the offense made its mark Saturday in the fourth quarter.
Lucasville Valley scored a touchdown to cut the Lions' lead to 20-14 with 6 minutes, 15 seconds to play in their Division V, Region 19 final Saturday at Nelsonville-York. On the most important offensive possession of the game -- and possibly Liberty Union's season -- the Lions responded with a four-play drive that covered 60 yards and ended with a Jacob Basso 10-yard touchdown.
The score essentially put the game out of reach, as the Indians had only 3:54 to play and faced a two-touchdown deficit. The Lions won 26-14 and advanced to the Division V state semifinals for the first time since 2008.
"We gotta score," junior quarterback Austin Vannatta said of his mindset on the final drive. "We gotta keep getting first downs. We gotta run the clock. We can't go three-and-out, because they'd get another chance to score."
After Basso was stopped for a loss on the first play of the drive, Vannatta hit Jesse Shirey on the sideline for an 11-yard gain and a first down. Basso broke loose for 37 yards on the next play -- his longest run of the game -- to get the ball to the 10. Basso finished off the drive and the Indians' undefeated season on the next play with his second score of the game.
Just like that, the Lions erased any chance of a late-game disappointment and remained in control.
"We had to (score)," Lions coach Dan Johnson said. "We went in the locker room and said we had to win the second half. We can't go out there and do this 'hold on' stuff. We had to win the second half, which we did."
Basso ran for 191 yards, and Vannatta was 8-of-11 for 116 yards in another balanced attack.
"We're just coming together well as a team," Vannatta said. "We're starting to throw the ball really well, too. Everything's just clicking for us right now. It's all coming together at once."
The progression of the offense alongside the Lions' traditionally stout defense has been an emerging subplot of the season, and it's something Johnson said has been vital to the Lions' success.
Liberty Union's defense made its share of important plays, too. Tyler Magley intercepted a pass in the end zone, Greg Underwood returned a fumble 80 yards for a touchdown, and the Lions forced four turnovers to bring their season total to 45.
The Lions' defense has been strong all year, and the continued development of the offense has put the team over the top on its run through the Division V playoffs.