CELINA — Celina cruised to a 35-21 homecoming victory over Liberty Christian at Bobcat Stadium as Ben Thiel hauled in five catches for 167 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but it was his 99-yard kickoff return in the third quarter that did the Warriors in Friday night.
Celina (2-1) grabbed the early lead on the opening possession of the game, marching 70 yards in 14 plays and capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass from Nathan Elliott to Cash Conder to give the Bobcats an early 7-0 lead.
Liberty Christian opened the game with a promising drive as they moved into Celina territory, but Micah Nelson came up with a big defensive play as he jarred the ball away from running back Matt Marrs and returned the fumble 64 yards for a score to make it 13-0.
Celina padded its lead midway through the second quarter, when Elliott delivered a 46-yard scoring strike to Thiel to put the Bobcats up 19-0.
The Warriors finally got some offensive rhythm late in the second quarter, when JonAaron Howell hauled in a short pass from Foster Ford on a screen and sprinted 43 yards to the Celina 18. Liberty Christian scored two plays later on a 13-yard touchdown run by Howell to trim the deficit to 19-7 before halftime.
The Warriors (2-1) took advantage of a botched punt by Celina early in the third quarter and immediately cashed it in for a score to pull within 19-14, as Ford rolled to his right and connected with Graham Richardson for a 20-yard TD pass.
Celina took away any momentum Liberty Christian had on the ensuing kickoff as Thiel found a seam up the middle of the field and sprinted 99 yards to make the score 26-14.
The Warriors struggled offensively against a relentless Celina pass rush throughout the game and was held to only 168 yards midway through the fourth quarter. Liberty did end the game on a positive note as running back Camron Cornett showed a flash of speed, getting to the corner and turning on the jets for a 68-yard TD run.
Celina 35, Liberty Christian 21
C — Cash Conder 4 pass from Nathan Elliott (Fabian Aguirre kick)
C — Micah Nelson 64 fumble return (kick failed)
C — Ben Thiel 46 pass from Nathan Elliott (conversion failed)
L — JonAaron Howell 13 run (Mikael Sroka kick)
L — Graham Richardson 20 pass from Foster Ford (Mikael Sroka kick)
C — Ben Thiel 99 kickoff return (Fabian Aguirre kick)
C — Ben Thiel 69 pass from Nathan Elliott (kick failed)
C — Aaron Reedy 30 FG
L — Camron Cornett 68 run (Mikael Sroka kick)
Rushing — CL: Connor Torbert 18-133, Willie Sims 2-36, Nathan Elliott 6-11, Payton Baird 3-11, Tyler Strickland 3-5, Kyle Sudberry 3-3, Micah Nelson 3-2, LB: Camron Cornett 9-91, JonAaron Howell 6-29, Jett Miller 5-22, Hunter Reece 2-9, Graham Richardson 1-3, Matt Marrs 1-0, Foster Ford 2--3.
Passing — CL: Nathan Elliott 15-22-1-207, LB: Foster Ford 5-21-1-80, Hunter Griffith 0-1-1-0.
Receiving — CL: Ben Thiel 5-167, Cash Conder 3-16, Micah Nelson 3-15, Connor Torbert 4-9, LB: JonAaron Howell 1-43, Graham Richardson 2-29, Hunter Reece 2-8.