By MICHAEL BURWELL
LEIPSIC — An interception on the first play of the game, a touchdown on the next, and a 7-0 lead just 18 seconds in set the tone for Leipsic’s football team on Saturday.
Caleb Lammers picked off Mohawk’s Landen Snyder and returned it 25 yards, and on the next play, Juan Pena punched it in for a 5-yard touchdown run as Leipsic knocked off Mohawk 30-8 in a Division VII, Region 26 quarterfinal game at Leipsic High School.
“Our pass defense, we thought, was a liability starting the season and we’ve improved and improved and improved,” Leipsic coach Joe Kirkendall said. “We did a really good job tonight in pass coverage.
“That was a great play, and then you go right down and score and you got the momentum and you give credit to Mohawk because we got right to them early and they didn’t cave and they made us work for everything tonight.”
Leipsic (10-1), the top seed in Region 26, which beat top-seeded Mohawk in last season’s Region 26 quarterfinal, will take on No. 5-seed Edgerton (9-2) in Saturday’s regional semifinal at Napoleon High School.
Edgerton (9-2) upended defending state champion McComb 44-21 in another regional quarterfinal. That game was also a rematch as McComb topped previously-unbeaten Edgerton in the 2018 Region 26 final.
Leipsic was playing Saturday without leading rusher Cole Williamson, who will miss the rest of the season after sustaining a knee injury in the Vikings’ 30-7 win over Arlington on Nov. 1.
Leipsic’s ground game, however, was still strong.
The Vikings racked up 214 rushing yards on 38 carries, with a trio of running backs providing the bulk of the yardage.
Lorenzo Walther, a 6-foot-1, 201-pound junior, racked up 89 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. He scored from 6 yards out in the second quarter to extend Leipsic’s lead to 22-0 and added a 4-yard score in the fourth quarter.
“That was the plan coming in (giving him that many carries),” Kirkendall said. “He’s just been a rotational guy, so he went to the fullback position and he’s a really good running back and he might have our best vision.
“We’ve had three backs all year and he’s been the short end of the stick, so he should be fresh.”
Senior running back Juan Pena, who sacked Snyder in the end zone for a safety late in the first quarter to extend Leipsic’s lead to 9-0, added 88 yards on 10 carries, including the game-opening touchdown. Sophomore Fabian Pena added 38 yards on eight carries and had a team-high five catches for 52 yards.
“We just challenged the offensive line. Let’s just be tougher than everybody else and get off the ball,” Kirkendall said.
Mohawk (6-5) couldn’t overcome its early mistakes and couldn’t take advantage of several Leipsic miscues.
The Warriors threw three interceptions, including one in scoring territory right before halftime. Mohawk had first-and-goal from the Leipsic 8 with one second left, but Walther picked off Snyder’s pass. Mohawk also had four turnovers on downs inside the Leipsic 30, two of which were in the red zone.
Mohawk only committed four penalties for 20 yards, but all four were false start penalties.
“You can’t beat a team like that if you’re jumping offsides, turning the ball over, having bad snaps, missed tackles on defense, but they’re a dang good team, man,” Mohawk coach Eric Daniel said. “We knew we’d have to play pretty well perfect to have a poke at them, and we did not play perfect.”
Leipsic had two lost fumbles (one on the Mohawk 1) and two interceptions.
“That was uncharacteristic of us. We turned the ball over more tonight than we normally do,” Kirkendall said. “We’ve got to protect the ball better. Interception, one was on the receiver, one was on the quarterback, the fumble can’t happen.”
Mohawk linebacker Bryce Sheets scored the Warriors’ lone touchdown as he ripped the ball out of Jadon Turner’s hands and ran it in from 10 yards out with 37 seconds left. Jesse Leeth, who had 65 yards on 14 carries, converted the two-point conversion run.
The Warriors rushed for 172 yards as Snyder totaled 80 yards on nine carries, including a 44-yard run in the third quarter and 27-yard scamper in the fourth. He was 7 of 17 passing for 62 yards and two interceptions, while Tyler Hayman hauled in five catches for 55 yards.
Leipsic quarterback Drew Liffick was 8 of 15 for 88 yards and two interceptions.
Mohawk 0 0 0 8 — 8
Leipsic 16 6 0 8 — 30
LEIP — J. Pena 5 run (J. Pena kick)
LEIP — Safety
LEIP — F. Pena 10 run (J. Pena kick)
LEIP — Walther 6 run (kick failed)
LEIP — Walther 4 run (F. Pena run)
MOH — Sheets 10 fumble return (Leeth run)
First Downs 9 16
Rushes-yards 36-172 38-214
Passing Yards 62 88
Comp-Att-Int 7-19-3 8-15-2
Punts-Avg. 2-37 1-36
Fumbles-Lost 3-0 3-2
Penalties-Yards 4-20 1-10
rushing — Mohawk, Snyder 9-80, Leeth 14-65, Danner 13-27. Leipsic, Walther 16-89, J. Pena 10-88, F. Pena 8-38, team 1-2, Turner 2-(-2), Apple 1-(-1).
passing — Mohawk, Snyder 7-17-2-62, Leeth 0-1-1-0, Hayman 0-1-0-0. Leipsic, Liffick 8-15-2-88.
receiving — Mohawk, Hayman 5-55, Stump 1-9, Leeth 1-(-2). Leipsic, F. Pena 5-52, Lammers 1-19, Sickmiller 2-17.