Born to run

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By Mike Forster

This is what it?s like to keep a foot on the neck of an opponent. This is what it?s like to throttle another team?to run it out of its own stadium. The Liberty football team showed how it can play when hitting on all cylinders and chose a perfect game in which do do so: the opening round of the VHSL playoffs.

Liberty stuck to its knitting on the way to a 47-14 pasting of Lord Botetourt. The team was obsessive in keeping the ball on the ground?and with good reason. Check out this stat: of its 58 plays from scrimmage, Liberty had 57 rushes and one punt. Here?s another stat for you to consider: 454 rushing yards for the game.

?That?s what we?ve done the past seven years,? said Liberty Head Coach Chris Watts of his team?s ability to grind out yardage while grinding down the opposition.

Running out of its stacked-I and with Derek Comer back under center, the Minutemen ripped the Botetourt defense for nearly 8 yards per carry. Even though the Cav defensive linemen looked bigger, their Minutemen counterparts won the day, blasting huge holes for Fuquan Goode and Bobby Whalen in the first half. In the second half, a fresh Lavarta Tanner was like a battering ram as he tore up the middle of the Cav defense.

For the evening, Goode racked up 229 yards and two touchdowns, while Tanner rang up 91 yards and a score. ?Fuquan has been a pleasant surprise for us this year,? observed Watts. ?He came out (this season) very mature and he?s shown patience when not getting the ball.?

Watts had a common sense explanation for why his team stuck to the ground exclusively, stating, ?Until they showed us they could stop our run, we saw no need to pass.?

Any way you look at this one, it was a solid, end-to-end, team performance: one that should re-ignite hope in the Liberty faithful that this team could very well have what it takes to advance further in the playoff hunt.

Comer ran the option with dexterity and deception. The offensive line of Justin Eckert, Anthony Cottrell, Tyler Hatcher, Chris Price, Josh Booth and Boo Payne ran holes through the Cav D-line. The coaching staff ran a flawless game plan. And the running backs? Well, they just ran like the dickens.

In the early going, this one looked like an evenly matched affair. Botetourt ran tailback Marquece Perdue on nearly every play of its opening drive, working its way down to the Liberty 20 yard line. From there, quarterback Emory Straub found Casey Weddle with a scoring strike.

Liberty stormed back with a workmanlike drive of its own, with Goode getting the majority of the carries. That drive set up freshman Thomas Clark?s two yard dive into the end zone.

Botetourt was knocking on the door during its second drive until defensive back Ryan Webb scooped up a fumble, setting the Minutemen up at their own 30. Comer led a drive that resulted in Goode?s 12 yard scoring dash.

With the game very much in the balance, freshman Anthony Reynolds provided the big momentum-grabbing play of the game, with a 75-yard scamper following his interception of Straub. The pass, intended to be a dump pass to a Cav halfback, was read all the way by the freshman, who picked the toss in stride. His blazing speed ensured that no Botetourt player came close to ending his quest for the end zone. ?We?d seen (Botetourt) slipping backs out of the backfield,? said Coach Watts. ?Anthony did a great job of working on that all week.?

Reynolds dash gave the Minutemen a 13 point margin as the clock wound down on the first half.

Deja vu?

However, the 20-7 halftime lead for Liberty left more than a few people with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it seemed to provide a good amount of breathing space. Plus, all momentum seemed to be on the side of the Minutemen.

On the other hand, that 20-7 score reflected exactly the score that Liberty carried into the locker room at the halfway point of its game with Brookville a couple of weeks ago. That one ended up with the Bees winning 47-20.

?We had a lot of things going through our mind at halftime. We almost didn?t go inside,? acknowledged Watts.

Rather than timidly cling to the lead, Watts ordered a veritable blitzkrieg. The Minutemen took the kickoff to open the second half and went to the no-huddle configuration.

More importantly, up-back Lavarta Tanner was inserted into the lineup, providing fresh legs to complement his bulling style.

The approach worked, as Liberty drove 47 yards to the 24 yard line. From there, Goode turned on the jets, leaving the Botetourt defense in the dust of his TD run.

Following that scamper, you could sense a mood of confidence and competence overtake the Liberty bench. Meanwhile, heads started to hang on the Botetourt side.

Forced to go to the passing game, the Cavs couldn?t muster anything against a smothering coverage applied by the likes of Payne, Webb and Reynolds in the defensive backfield. Inside linebacker Jon Langhorne and Comer were quick to pop potential receivers ducking out of the backfield.

However, it should be noted, Botetourt quarterback Straub had substantial time to try and find his receivers. However, the coverage was just too tough. For the night, Straub was limited to a single completion on his 11 attempts?that opening score of the game.

Liberty quarterback Comer didn?t seem too distraught at the dearth of passing opportunities, picking up 50 yards, himself. While Comer had a superb evening (including some tough running in the red zone), his understudy Travis Bowyer showed some flash, as well. Serving in a halfback role during the first half, Bowyer stepped in at quarterback toward the end of the game. On Liberty?s final drive, Bowyer ran a misdirection off the option, faking out everyone (including the referee), and zipping to his left and down the sidelines for a 45 yard touchdown.

In what was easily Liberty?s finest game of the season, the crowd that made the trip to the west saw Minutemen power at its finest. ?We know if we do what we?re supposed to do, it?s hard to stop our offense,? state Watts. ?I believe in it.?