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Liberty moves to 4-1 by beating winless Eagles

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By Mike Forster

Since the last time Liberty visited Staunton River, much has changed.

The Minutemen found themselves on a new (Bermuda) field, the notoriously high field crown had been shaved down, the Eagles have a new-look scoreboard and the team has a new coach.

Most important of all, Staunton River led the Minutemen 14-13 midway through the second quarter.

While the rest of those previously-listed changes stayed firm, that last one did not endure as Liberty rang up 27 unanswered points en route to a 40-14 win. The final score saddled the Eagles with their 20th straight loss, a streak that began in 2006.

For the third straight week, Liberty opened a game in listless fashion. "I don't know what the secret is," said Head Coach Chris Watts. "We've got to get out to a fast start. We had a hard time matching Staunton River's intensity."

That intensity manifested itself in the Eagles drawing first blood, as Geary Cunningham fought off smothering coverage by Liberty DB Anthony Reynolds, then played juggler before finally reining in Cody Jones's 20 yard pass into the end zone.

That 7-0 Eagle lead lasted exactly twenty seconds as JJ Starks took Stephen Hardy's kickoff, found a seam on the left and blazed down to the Liberty 12 yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Reynolds scooted off right tackle to tie the score.

Liberty seized the lead when Thomas Clark broke loose on a trap play and blistered 69 yards for the score. Al Dillon blocked Logan Johnson's PAT attempt.

Dillon would put the Eagles ahead when he dove in from two yards out, as Michael Williams cleared the way for his fellow captain.

Dillon's score was set up by a magnificent kickoff return by Wesley Gates after the Eagle return man initially fumbled the ball. The Eagle scoring effort was also helped out by a Liberty facemasking call. What would have been a 3rd-and-four from the 14 became a 1st-and-goal from the 6.

Nonetheless, Kordero Thompson put the Minutemen ahead for good when he reigned in a Tyler Bowyer swing pass at the 39-yard line, shook off two would-be tacklers, and went cross-field before turning north for the end zone.

The 20-14 halftime score ensured nobody was going to leave the Eagles' Nest due to lack of interest.

"Staunton River kept coming back, but we kept coming back at them," said Watts.

Said Staunton River Head Coach Rick Witt, "We put ourselves in the best position we've had all year."

The second half opened with Staunton River stopping a Liberty drive on the Golden Eagle 38. Big tackles by Dustin Kidd, Scott Fike and Dillon forced the Minutemen to punt.

Johnson's boot pinned the Eagles deep in their own territory, from which they were unable to move the ball.

Thomas Schacter and Clark came up with big hits to force the Eagle punt, and quarterback Bowyer was back in business on the Eagle 34.

From there, Bowyer hit Carlton Payne with a swing pass. It took five Eagle defenders to bring down Big Boo.

Bowyer then powered it in himself from 10 yards out to make it 27-14.

The Eagles found themselves deep in their own territory once again. Liberty middle linebacker Michael Bowyer nearly got the safety when he blitzed and wrapped up Jones just outside of the end zone paint.

After Jones's punt put the Minutemen at the Eagle 29, two straight passes to Payne had two dramatically different results.

On the first, to the right, Eagle Gates absolutely popped Payne, the noise heard throughout the stadium.

On the very next play, to the left, Payne showed he's made of resilient stuff, as he shook off two Eagles and raced in for the score, the hit he took from Gates now a distant memory.

Liberty's final tally came when Brandon Sparrow, normally a defensive linemen, rumbled in from four yards out from the fullback position.

Might the muscular Sparrow become another arrow in the Liberty quiver? Stay tuned.

The upshot

There were no real surprises on the scoreboard. On the field of play, however, there were a few items of note.

Staunton River's Meech Coles is a rugged rambler who can take a hit.

Liberty's Michael Bowyer is proving himself to be among the elite linebackers in the District. He has a real nose for the ball.

The Minutemen were without Lavarta Tanner, yet again (arm injury). His absence limits the flexibility the Minutemen desire with their offensive looks.

Liberty's Thompson seems to be one of the more natural open-field runners. Whether it's with a pick or a completed pass, the senior seems to find a way to weave through traffic.

River's Wesley Gates and Bobby Hobbs may very well be the best one-two return punch in the Seminole District. Any time either of these guys touches the ball, it will get exciting.

River showed it's "Wild Eagle" look. Seeing it is worth the price of admission