Rising from the ashes like the mythical bird, the Oberlin Phoenix rallied to defeat the Brookside Cardinals 22-19 in Oberlin on a 75-yard kickoff return touchdown by Devan Yarber with 10 seconds remaining in the game Friday.
The stunning reversal of fortune came after Cardinals quarterback Charles Liggit was faced with fourth-and-15 at the Cardinal 35 with about 30 seconds left. He threw a 65-yard touchdown to David Chambers, who caught the ball at midfield and raced down the left sideline to score.
“I lost us the game,” cornerback Jordan Anderson told coach Garrett Mack after the score. “No you didn’t,” Mack replied.
It seemed like defeat was certain for the Phoenix, who lost in the last minute to the New London Wildcats in the season opener a week earlier.
Mack said after the game that he told the kickoff return squad it would get big blocks for Yarber and he would “take it to the house.”
That seemed unlikely. Yarber was exhausted and his legs had been cramping in the fourth quarter after a workhorse performance at running back and duty at defensive back. Nonetheless, Yarber, who rushed for 27-yard and three-yard touchdowns in the first half, dug deep and found the energy for a spectacular finale.
Catching the ball at the 25 yard line, he cut to the right sideline, found a wall of blockers, and outran the Cardinals defenders. Despite his fatigue, Yarber said he didn’t want to let his teammates down.
“I did this for everybody,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”
Oberlin relied on Yarber throughout the game. With Caleb Hughley, Journey Toole, and Matt Stanfield all dropping multiple passes, Phoenix quarterback David Payne was unable to mount an aerial attack. But the Phoenix ran effectively thanks to strong blocking and Yarber.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound junior used his speed and quickness on sweeps and cutbacks, and toughness on runs up the middle. His first touchdown, which came with 6:19 remaining in the first quarter, involved splendid instinct and vision. Yarber ran left, then cut back across the field to exploit over-pursuing Cardinals defenders. The Phoenix led 6-0 after a missed extra point attempt.
Brookside took a 7-6 lead with 2:15 remaining in the second quarter after Liggitt found Chambers down the right side for a 30-yard score.
But the Cardinals were unable to stop Yarber, who relied on strength more than speed for his second touchdown, a bull rush up the middle to give the Phoenix a 12-7 lead with 36 seconds remaining in the half. Payne followed with a two-point conversion to Hughley on a right slant pattern and the Phoenix led 14-7 at the half.
The Phoenix defense dominated the Cardinals for most of the game, pouncing on fumbles, sacking Liggitt, and snagging a couple of interceptions, but remaining vulnerable to big plays.
On a quarterback draw, Liggitt ran up the middle for a 15-yard TD with 11:52 remaining in the fourth quarter. A blocked extra point allowed the Phoenix to stay ahead 14-13.
Oberlin appeared to be on the way to a sloppy victory until Chambers’ second touchdown shocked the Phoenix and their approximately 200 fans. Dismay turned to joy seconds later for Oberlin while Brookside players were crushed.
“We didn’t give up tonight and you fought hard and I’m proud of that,” Cardinals coach Paul Ferguson told his players. “We need to pick each other up because there’s going to be a lot of feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Across the field, Mack could empathize, having been seconds away from delivering the same kind of speech. The first-year coach, said the miraculous win rewards the hard work and belief in one another that his coaches and players have.
“We could have gave up and just put our heads down on that kickoff and said no (but) our kids went out there and made that play,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.
Evan Goodenow |News-Tribune Ian Yarber scores his second touchdown on this three-yard run with 36 seconds remaining in the first half.
Photos by Erik Andrews Oberlin’s defense consistently pressured Brookside’s quarterbacks, including this sack by Journey Toole.