By MICHAEL BURWELL
PANDORA — Will Poling was supposed to throw a block.
Instead, the Liberty-Benton senior wide receiver gave the Eagles a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Poling whiffed on a block against Pandora-Gilboa defensive back Jared Breece, but got open, caught a pass from quarterback Austin May, broke a tackle and bolted 56 yards for a touchdown to give the Eagles a four-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
L-B added another score and went on to knock off the previously unbeaten Rockets 31-20 in a battle between state-ranked Blanchard Valley Conference teams on Friday.
“Actually, it was a smoke wide to our slot receiver and I actually missed the block and the corner drove down really hard,” Poling said, “and I just stood there and May made a great read and threw it to me.”
L-B coach Tim Nichols, in his 11th season, won his 100th game at the school against 24 losses.
The Eagles, ranked No. 10 in the Division VI Associated Press poll, won their fourth straight game to improve to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the BVC. P-G, No. 4 in Division VII, dropped to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the league.
“It’s nice to get back in the thick of it,” Nichols said. “A lot to go, but we’re just excited we beat a very good football team.”
McComb, which beat Riverdale 42-19, is the last unbeaten team in BVC play after improving to 6-1 overall and 5-0 in the BVC. The Panthers still play P-G in Week 9 and L-B in Week 10.
L-B fumbled the ball four times, losing two, and threw an interception. But the Eagles finished strong by scoring the last 21 points of the game.
Poling’s score gave the Eagles a 24-20 lead with 7:15 left. It was L-B’s first lead since 3-0 midway through the first quarter after Eli Heaster kicked a 30-yard field goal.
“What happened was, Breece, their corner, drove down so hard that Will whiffed,” Nichols said. “So Austin realized it could be picked, so he held it. ” Austin luckily didn’t throw it; it’s probably a pick-six.”
On the ensuing play, L-B’s Griffin Hohman picked off P-G quarterback Breece’s pass after the Eagles’ Marshall Rose tipped the ball. Six plays later, May scored from 5 yards out, his second rushing touchdown of the game, to extend the lead to 31-20 with 4:15 left.
“It was tough, but in the locker room at halftime, I just looked at the guys and I had to be a leader and we had to go out and win this football game as a team,” May said. “Pandora’s a great team, they’re state ranked and it was a big game. We just had to finish and we did — made plays when we needed to.”
P-G advanced to the L-B 21 after Breece found Travis Maag for a 35-yard gain. Three straight incompletions made it fourth-and-10 from the L-B 21 with 3:01 left.
Breece’s pass was incomplete, but L-B was called for a defensive holding penalty. The ball was placed at the 12 yard line, and on fourth-and-1 Breece’s incompletion gave L-B the ball back.
“It was half the distance, whatever the call was. I think we had a little miscommunication on the mark-off,” P-G coach Matt Hershey said. “We thought it was (first down) originally, and then they put it fourth so we tried to get our play in because we didn’t have any timeouts left. Unfortunately for both sides here, I guess it was just one big mix-up.”
The Rockets scored a pair of touchdowns off L-B turnovers in the first half to build a 13-10 lead at the break.
Carter Nofziger, who led P-G with six catches for 84 yards, picked off May late in the first quarter. Breece found Nofziger, who made a tough catch with an L-B defender in his face, in the end zone from 32 yards out to make it 6-3 with 9:33 left in the second after a missed extra point.
On L-B’s next play, Conor Greer’s lost fumble gave P-G the ball at the Eagles’ 46. Seven plays later, Breece leaped into the end zone from a yard out to make it 13-3 with 6:36 left in the half.
“We were awfully generous tonight,” Nichols said. “We haven’t had that, and here’s the kicker — we spent more time this week on ball security than we had the whole year, and we had the worst night in regard to taking care of it. That’s football. It’s crazy.”
May was 12 of 19 passing for 163 yards and added 63 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. He scored from 37 yards out in the second quarter to pull L-B within 13-10 after he tiptoed down the right sideline and outran several P-G defenders.
P-G opened the second half with a 12-play, 86-yard drive to take a 20-10 lead as Breece scored from 7 yards out. He had 28 yards rushing and was 2 of 3 for 34 yards passing, with both completions going to Nofziger.
Breece finished with 187 yards on 13 of 25 passing and 54 rushing yards. Riley Larcom had five catches for 57 yards, while Travis Maag had 46 yards on two catches.
P-G, which plays Hopewell-Loudon on Friday, is still in the hunt to win a share of its first BVC title since 1999.
“We still have a chance to share it, and that’s better than nothing,” Hershey said. “But we have our work cut out for us. Hopewell’s well coached. I think they’re probably going to be a little bit more healthy than they have been all year.”
Tyler Dillon had four catches for 37 yards for L-B, while Rose added 80 rushing yards on 11 carries.
Liberty-Benton 3 7 7 14 — 31
Pandora-Gilboa 0 13 7 0 — 20
L-B — FG Heaster 30
P-G — Nofziger 32 pass from Beece (kick failed)
P-G — Breece 1 run (Hok kick)
L-B — May 37 run (Heaster kick)
P-G — Breece 7 run (Hok kick)
L-B — Rose 2 run (Heaster kick)
L-B — Poling 56 pass from May (Heaster kick)
L-B — May 5 run (Heaster kick)
First Downs 16 15
Rushes-yards 360167 35-116
Passing Yards 163 187
Comp-Att-Int 12-19-1 13-25-1
Punts-Avg. 1-38 3-31.7
Fumbles-Lost 4-2 0-0
Penalties-Yards 6-59 3-28
rushing — Liberty-Benton, Rose 11-80, May 16-63, Greer 8-16, Poling 1-8. Pandora-Gilboa, Breece 19-54, Traxler 12-39, Lee 3-17, Nofziger 1-6.
passing — Liberty-Benton, May 12-19-1-163. Pandora-Gilboa, Breece 13-25-1-187.
receiving — Liberty-Benton, Poling 2-60, Dillon 4-37, Jenkins 2-26, Risner 1-20, Greer 2-11, Rose 1-9. Pandora-Gilboa, Nofziger 6-84, Larcom 5-57, Maag 2-46.