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They say all good things come to he who waits. In Fuquan Goode's case, he waited until there were three minutes left in Liberty's game with Rustburg.
Having been beaten for a touchdown pass just before the half, and having been stymied on the ground by a surprisingly resilient Rustburg defense, the senior went into the locker room at halftime justifiably down.
"Your time will come," Liberty Head Coach Chris Watts told the standout Goode. Sure enough, Goode returned a kickoff 70 yards, scoring a touchdown and knocking the wind out of the Rustburg sails.
As a result, the Minutemen escaped the Devils' grasp, taking a 21-13 win and ensuring themselves of a playoff berth in the Division 3 grouping.
Watts remarked, "Ugly or pretty, we're in the playoffs and it's a whole new season."
No doubt about it, this was an ugly one. Ugly as in "tie a porkchop around that kid's neck so the family dog will play with him" ugly. The first quarter, alone, featured six penalties, two fumbles and an interception. That opening stanza set the stage for a mistake-filled evening-long fete. In fairness, it should be noted that one of the Rustburg fumbles was caused by a powerful blast from hard-hitting Ryan Webb.
The Minutemen were able to prevail by fighting off a Rustburg comeback. Up 14-0, courtesy of two Derek Comer-to-Boo Payne touchdown connections, Liberty looked to be well in control of things in the first half. The second score, a 67 yarder, came when Comer ran a play-action fake and found Payne streaking down the right sideline all alone. The big fella pulled in Comer's strike on the 20 yard line and sprinted the rest of the way, with nary a Devil to be found in his vicinity.
Rustburg's Tyler Morris found Tevin Cobbs for a 38 yard completion, then found him again for the scoring pass with under a minute left.
The second half opened in disconcerting fashion as Comer took a shot to his shoulder at the end of a 15 yard run, on the opening play of the half. The hit knocked him out of the game. With Tyler Bowyer (and, briefly, Boo Payne) calling signals the rest of the way, the Minutemen stuck to their ground game and played, seemingly, for field position the rest of the way. The offensive unit was not to score again.
Meanwhile, Rustburg just wouldn't be exorcised and put together an impressive drive in the middle of the fourth quarter that had the Minutemen stunned. After Matt Harris recovered a Liberty fumble, the Devils were in business on their own 27. A pass interference call, hard runs up the gut by Mike Lowden and sprints to the outside by Javon Campbell set up Chris Anderson's bull-rush touchdown.
On the PAT attempt, the snap to holder Cobbs precluded him from getting a good plant. Cobbs picked it up and scrambled to his right before launching a desperation pass into the end zone, above the heads of his receivers.
With the Minutemen expecting an on-side kick, the Devils opted to squib it toward the middle of the Liberty return configuration. There, Goode found a handle on the ball and saw vast daylight to his right. He turned on the jets and flat out-ran the Devil return team. Logan Johnson's PAT opened up an 8 point lead.
Comer, with an ice pack strapped to his shoulder, seemed to be the lone voice of encouragement eminating from an otherwise moribund Minutemen bench.
Rustburg had two more chances, but it was foiled. Linebacker Travis McDaniel intercepted a Morris pass. Then teammate Webb did the same. Webb's 38 yard return put the Minutemen in a comfortable position to have Bowyer take a couple of knees to end the game.
This one was too close for comfort. Either Rustburg has been playing possum all season (unlikely), or the Minutemen have some issues to address prior to its entry into the playoff fray.
First off, the mistakes have got to be reduced, particularly the illegal procedure calls. The rest of the penalties were understandable, with the exception of a needless roughing the kicker call on a Rustburg punt. But the jumpiness across the offensive front was inexplicable this late in the season, even taking into account the great amount of player turnover the Minutemen have experienced.
Second, the player turnover is having a big impact. The loss of Bert White, the up-man in the stacked-I formation, means that Lavarta Tanner moves up to White's spot and freshman Thomas Clark moves into Tanner's spot. The Minutemen have a new center in Josh Booth, who played a solid game. When Comer fell out, Liberty had a new quarterback, in Bowyer, as well as a new defensive back in Anthony Reynolds. All involved are talented, no doubt.
But, there is certainly a value in generating the cohesiveness and unity of effort that comes only through game repetitions with the same folk in the same slots. Watts readily admits the issue, saying, "We need to find the right combination."
Third, the Minutemen need to re-check that old niggling problem that has plagued them since last season: focus. The team has yet to put its collective foot on the neck of an opponent that is down. It allowed Rustburg to work its way back into position to get the win, rather than crush its dreams before they got any traction. It is not enough to have a comfortable lead. It is much more important to make it an insurmountable one.
The Forest game will be interesting from that perspective. Last year, the Minutemen had a comfortable lead and let up on the throttle. Forest took advantage and stormed back.
In this, what Coach Watts is terming "the new season," Liberty can ill afford to let future teams get up from the down position.