Trailing 17-14 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Licking Valley, behind Phillips and Klein, embarked on an 18-play 65-yard drive that lasted nine minutes. Klein ended the drive with a touchdown plunge on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1 yard line, giving the Panthers the lead and eventually the win, 21-17.
When Valley got the ball back with 11:49 left in the game, after just surrendering a lead, senior quarterback Nick Phillips knew what the team had to do.
“As soon as we got the ball we knew we had to score … that this was it,” said Phillips. “I told them to calm down, stay focused. We knew we were going to run the football and take time off the clock.”
Before the drive started, Panther head coach Randy Baughman put a challenge out for his team to respond to.
“We challenged our offensive line and said let’s go get it,” said Baughman. “They’ve been doing that type of thing all year. They were confident and executed great.”
The go-ahead drive for Valley was the kind legends are born from. Three times during the drive, the Panthers faced fourth-down-and-one situations. Each time Storm Klein came through with tough runs to pick up the first down. Baughman put most of the credit on his group of seniors.
“I can’t say enough about our seniors,” said Baughman. “That was a great example of seniors not letting us lose.”
After converting the two previous fourth down attempts, Valley faced a fourth and goal on the Northwest Indian one yard line. The call to go to Klein was an obvious one for Coach Baughman. “If we called anything else, I think the linemen would’ve turned on me.”
Klein took the handoff and appeared to be stopped by the Indian defense, but on a tough second effort, the Ohio State recruit was able to power into the end zone.
“Our team came together on the last play,” said Klein. “It was a total team effort.”
The team effort was taken to the next level by Phillips, who aided Klein’s push into the end zone with a push of his own.
“Yeah I did it,” admitted Phillips. “I can’t lie, I gave him a push.”
Klein and the Panthers nearly didn’t get the chance for the dramatic score. Josh Bailey fumbled the ball, but fortunately for Valley, center Cody Hammond, the only Panther player in the midst of seemingly the entire Indian front seven, was able to come up with the recovery to keep the drive alive.
To make the scoring drive matter, the Panther defense responded by holding off Northwest’s last charge for victory. After a 38 yard pass play from Jim Shiplett to Tony Stover took the Indians into Panther territory, the Panther defense responded and knocked away the final pass in the end zone to secure the win.
Licking Valley took a 14-3 lead over the top seeded Indians on a Josh Bailey 14 yard run in the third quarter. Then Northwest, like a prize fighter who tastes his own blood, awoke with a fury. Stover set up his team in good field position with a kickoff return to the 46 yard line. Northwest from there went on an 8 play drive that junior tailback Danny Beers finished off with a 22 yard touchdown run to cut into the Panther lead.
After holding Valley to a 3-and-out, the Indian offense went back on the march. This time it was a 10 play 65 yard drive, finished off with a Shiplett 20 yard touchdown pass to Paul Hensley to put Northwest on top 17-14. But after Valley retook the lead, the Indians couldn’t build a second comeback.
Northwest Head Coach Vic Whiting felt his team had it in them to come from behind. “We’ve come from behind before this year,” said Whiting. “We know we needed to make more plays and tonight we just didn’t make enough plays.”
Licking Valley wins its first regional championship since 2001. Klein knows it took the entire team to step up to reach this point.
“Everyone contributing is big, and we haven’t had that in the past few years,” said Klein. “It’s great to know your buddies have your back and everyone is playing their hearts out.”
Northwest, the champions of the Northeastern Buckeye Conference, has their season come to an end with a 12-1 record. Licking Valley will advance to next weeks state semifinal.