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Liberty to head to Staunton

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M-Men face Leemen in playoff opener

By Mike Forster

  If it's playoff time and Liberty is in the mix, that can only mean one thing:  the Minutemen will have to get past the Leemen of R.E. Lee.

This will be the third time that the two teams will face one another in the past five seasons.  In 2008, Liberty's season was ended by the Leemen, 35-8, in a regional semifinal.  In 2009, the Minutemen returned the favor, topping Lee, 35-28, in a semi.

This Friday's game at Staunton will serve as the rubber match between the two.  The fact that Liberty is making the trip is remarkable.  Few outside the Liberty campus envisioned the Minutemen earning a playoff berth.  Count this reporter among the early-season skeptics.

After all, the Minutemen were coming off a 1-9 year.  The team had underclassmen at the majority of skill positions, leading pundits to anticipate great things from the team...perhaps next year.

Well, next year became this year and Head Coach Chris Watts is loathe to accept merely making the playoffs as good enough for his charges.

"As I told the (players), 'Hard work got us here, but don't be satisfied'," said Watts.

In order to advance to the regional semifinals (against Rockbridge), Liberty will have to overcome quite a bit:

-An R.E. Lee team that is steeped in tradition, having been to the playoffs in seven straight seasons.

-A long trip to Staunton.

-A Leemen defense that is giving up about 15 points per game.

-A shotgun spread offense that is peppered with outstanding athletes and big guys up front.

Still, Watts seems more concerned with the things that reside within his team than with what Lee brings to the table.

"My concerns are more internal," he noted.  "Taking care of fundamentals -  tackling and coverage - where we've had the big breakdowns."

Watts is also looking for big playmakers to exploit opportunities.  In their last win over Lee, the Minutemen were led by Anthony Reynolds' 99-yard pick six.  "Big players make big plays," said Watts.  "That's what we need."

How steep a cliff does Liberty face as it begins its post-season sojourn?

Well, in order to nab a state championship, the Minutemen would have to  win five playoff games, something that has never happened in Division 3.  (Briar Woods, in Division 4, has won its last two state titles by winning a quintet of playoff games.)