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They've got 21st-century perfection.
Going into last Friday night's tilt against Staunton River, Liberty had not lost a season-opening game this century. After topping the Eagles, 32-13, that remarkable fact remains true.
Quarterback Austin Porter ran the dreaded Liberty option in nearly flawless fashion and was part of a trio of Minutemen who raced for over 100 yards apiece. Porter ran for 107 yards and three touchdowns on just nine carries.
Matthew Smith led all rushers, with 157 yards on a dozen touches. Dustin Hiner picked up 139 yards on ten carries. The senior also rang up a pair of touchdowns.
Each of the three averaged greater than ten yards per carry against a well-regarded Staunton River defense.
The Eagles, meanwhile, unleashed their unbalanced, single-wing attack. For something that is a) complicated and b) brand-new, the offense was executed with aplomb by the four fellows who comprised the backfield: Quannie Blake, Jakob Divers, Marcus Brown and Ramir Hunt.
With all of their misdirection, twists, counters and reverses, the Eagles apportioned themselves well, putting the ball on the ground not a single time.
In fact, Staunton River engineered time-consuming drives that ate up huge swaths of real estate throughout the game's first half. Regrettably, those drives did not yield as many points as might be hoped for, from an Eagle perspective.
Liberty, on the other hand, was a dish of sweet and sour football. The Minutemen looked to be world beaters at times, breaking huge plays while executing to perfection. That was the sweet part. At other times, senseless and purposeless penalties hurt the Minutemen cause while keeping the Eagles alive.
Well into the fourth quarter, Staunton River still had a chance in this one, thanks in large part to a pair of Minutemen touchdowns which were nullified by um-dum yellow flags.
Porter gets things going
It didn't take long for the tempo of this game to be established. Staunton River took the opening kickoff and pieced together a 17-play drive. But a missed field goal attempt (from 33 yards out) was all they had to show for their efforts.
Liberty's first play from scrimmage was a 58 yard jaunt by Smith. Three plays later, Porter kept on the option, dashing in from eight yards away.
David Thomas's 48-yard kickoff return set up the Eagles in Liberty territory. A short drive ended in Adam DaPonte's 45-yard field goal.
It took Liberty just five plays to score its next touchdown. Set up by Hiner's 49-yard dash, Porter did the honors from 16 yards out.
As it would turn out, those 14 points were all Liberty would need. Although it didn't seem so at the time.
River responded with a DaPonte field goal (35 yards).
Smith had a 51-yard TD run down the home sideline nullified for a late clipping penalty. Not to worry: Hiner nearly exactly replicated the run three plays later for a 20-6 edge.
"Our line did great," said Hiner. "There were a bunch of holes."
"It was a hard-fought battle," said Ben Goad, a member of that line. "Our strength and determination in the weight room paid off for us. It's all heart and dedication."
Clay Feazell, however, returned the ensuing kickoff 74 yards, setting up Quannie Blake's one-yard dive up the gut. The 20-13 score stood until the break. And the Liberty faithful were nervous.
They're nerves were somewhat settled after Smith rumbled 42 yards on the first play from scrimmage of the second half. Then Porter, on fourth-and-goal, faded, tucked and dashed home with a 15-yard touchdown.
"At halftime, we had a chance to get everyone's heads to stop swimming," said Liberty Head Coach Chris Watts.
Midway through the third quarter, the game turned completely Liberty's way when a big goal-line stand denied the Eagles. Big stops by Kenyon Orange and Dylan Smith played prominently in that sequence. Meanwhile, River's Ramir Hunt suffered incapacitating cramps. Worse, Blake (130 rushing yards) came off on a stretcher, not to return.
After that, River had a hard time getting anything going, while Liberty rolled. The final nail came when Liberty was stopped on a third-and-nine, but River was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Three plays later, Liberty scored to put the game away.
"This one hurts," said Eagle Head Coach Chuck Poston. "Still, I could not be prouder of my team," They gave everything they could."