By Brad Morris
Circleville coach Steve Evans gets emotional when he talks about his 10 seniors and what they mean to him.
So, when one of his seniors made a play suggestion on third-and-goal on Friday, Evans embraced it.
“Liberty Union had stuffed us a couple of times, so we called a timeout to talk about it and that’s when TJ Fulgham suggested that we run something to the perimeter,” Evans said. “Liberty Union was loading the box, because we had hit them up the middle a lot with our run game and then hit an occasional pass to the edge.”
Joe Streitenberger took the handoff from Moats on a jet sweep around left side and scored from six yards out with 1:41 remaining, lifting the Tigers to a dramatic 19-12 Mid-State League Buckeye Division win over host Liberty Union.
“Omari Graham threw a great block on the safety and Joe just outran everyone to the pylon,” Evans said.
The Tigers (5-5, 2-5) entered the day with just a 10 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Drew Pasteur’s Fantastic 50 website.
With the win and some outside help, those chances increased to 100 percent, as the Tigers secured the final playoff spot in Division III, Region 11, according to joeeitel.com.
The Tigers were aided by Logan’s 39-0 win over Zanesville and Columbus Academy edging Whitehall 20-19 in overtime.
“We talked to the kids about controlling the controllable, because if we didn’t do that than nothing else would matter Evans said. “It was an emotional locker room and bus ride home and I’m still choked about it.”
The playoff bid is the first for the Tigers since 2013 (not including the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic season when all teams automatically advanced to the postseason).
Evans discussed the senior class of Streitenberger, Graham, Fulgham, Scott Moats, Nolan West, Keegan Piper, Parker Kidwell, Angelo Travis, Tate DeBord and Mark Brunner and their leadership.
“Those seniors won a combined three games from seventh-grade through their sophomore year before we got here,” Evans said. “They bought into what we were preaching, they believed in themselves, and they trusted the coaching staff. They did a nice job of leading our football team and left everything they had on the field tonight. I’m just so proud of each and every one of those young men.”
The Tigers scored on their first possession of the game, thanks to a 13-play drive that covered 49 yards.
Moats capped the drive with a five-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers ahead 6-0.
Liberty Union (2-8, 1-6) tied the score going into halftime courtesy of field goals of 22 and 32 yards by Storm Wolfel in the second quarter.
The Lions pulled ahead 12-6 midway through the third quarter on a 20-yard touchdown run from Cayden Carroll.
Circleville responded with a 12-play drive that covered 64 yards to tie the game.
Moats completed a pair of passes for 19 yards on the possession and Jude Blair covered 16 yards on five carries that included a one-yard touchdown run.
The Tigers went ahead for good on a 12-play drive that covered 54 yards and drained nearly six minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter.
Blair had seven carries for 31 yards and Streitenberger capped the possession with his aforementioned six-yard touchdown run. The PAT from Moats put the Tigers ahead 19-12.
The Circleville defense then forced a turnover on downs to seal the win.
Moats completed 11 of 20 passes for 101 yards and added 38 yards rushing with a touchdown. Blair used 27 carries to cover 94 yards and scored a touchdown.
Nolan West paced the Tigers with five receptions for 53 yards.
Circleville outgained Liberty Union 235-188, which included holding quarterback Cayden Carroll to only 2 of 23 passing for 12 yards and an interception.
Carroll did cover 66 yards on 22 carries and scored a touchdown, while Caden Courts added 59 yards on nine carries.
“Our defense was outstanding,” Evans said. “We felt like we had started overthinking some things defensively, so we just talked to our kids about reading their keys, play fast and get to the football.
“We forced Liberty Union into throwing the football a good bit and did a great job of defending the pass. We also did a nice job of containing (Cayden Carroll and Caden Courts) and keeping them in check for most of the night.”
The Tigers are slated to travel to Sheridan (9-1) for a first-round playoff game next Friday. The Generals defeated Perry County rival New Lexington 31-20 last night.
But, before the Tigers start to prepare for the postseason, they have some celebrating to do.
“We talked to our kids that Friday was all about business and beating Liberty Union,” Evans said. “Since they did that and qualified for the playoffs, it’s time for them to enjoy the Pumpkin Show on Saturday and celebrate.”
Coming to Circleville this September!
Liberty Union 12
Score By Quarters 1 2 3 4 F
Circleville 6 0 6 7 19
Liberty Union 0 6 6 0 12
CV — Scott Moats 5 run (kick failed), 4:36.
LU — Storm Wolfel 22 field goal, 4:43.
LU — Storm Wolfel 32 field goal, 0:01.
LU — Cayden Carroll 20 run (kick failed), 6:53.
CV — Jude Blair 1 run (kick failed), 1:30.
CV — Joe Streitenberger 6 run (Scott Moats kick), 1:41.
First downs 14 12
Rushing yards 37-134 36-176
Passing yards 101 12
Comp.-Att.-Int 11-20-2 2-23-1
Total yards 235 188
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 0-0
Penalties-Yards 9-85 7-70
Punts-Ave. 3-36.3 4-22.8
RUSHING – Circleville — Jude Blair 27-94, Scott Moats 8-38, Joe Streitenberger 1-6, Daniel Cutliff 1-(-4). Liberty Union — Cayden Carroll 22-66, Caden Courts 9-59, Camden Manson 3-40, Aiden Jones 1-7, Mason Watkins 1-4.
PASSING – Circleville — Scott Moats 11-20-2-101. Liberty Union — Cayden Carroll 2-23-1-12.
RECEIVING – Circleville — Nolan West 5-53, Joe Streitenberger 4-29, Parker Kidwell 1-15, Drew Thornsley 1-4. Liberty Union — Storm Wolfel 2-12.
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