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Next up: Liberty heads to Rockbridge

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Seek to avenge last year's season-ending loss

By Mike Forster

 

Over the past few years, Liberty has had a relatively easy go in its second week of the season.

In fact, over the past six years, the Minutemen were able to ring up big scores against teams with a combined record of 17-45.

During that stretch, the only playoff team the M-Men faced was Staunton River, in 2011.

During two seasons, they faced teams in that second week which would go on to post exactly zero wins for the season.

Those days, it seems, are gone.

Liberty will see a mighty crew in Rockbridge when the M-Men head to Stone Cold Stadium this Friday night.

The Wildcats may well be the most talented second-week opponent Liberty will face since they came up against a Northside crew that went undefeated in 2001.

The Rockbridgers, however, experienced some early-season turmoil.  More on that later.

This will be a meaningful game for the following reasons:

-Liberty and Rockbridge are both part of 3A-West, and should both be jockeying for playoff positioning.  Head-to-head competition may very well end up being a key factor in November's seedings.

-The Minutemen get the opportunity to show they can defeat a team that is physically larger than they.

Rockbridge has dominating size, particularly in the form of 373-pound D-1 college-destined Austin Clark at tackle and returning All-Blue Ridge first teamer Adam Doll-Hennis at tight end and inside linebacker.

-The Minutemen get a chance at redemption.  Last year, it was the Rockies which prematurely ended Liberty's playoff run.  In that track meet disguised as a football game, the Wildcats came away with a 52-40 win.

That win also propelled Rockbridge into the Region III (Divison 3) championship game.  There, the Rockies nearly upset eventual-State champ Brookville.  The Bees dodged the Rockies to the tune of 28-24.

They nearly had to face the Minutemen, as Liberty almost took it to the Rocks after letting the Wildcats own the game's first quarter.

But that's all ancient history.  This year, the Minutemen will have to contend with a lot of the same faces they got to meet last year, in the first contest between the two schools in recent memory.

Two of those faces they may avoid, at least from behind a helmet's facemask, are Trey Merchant and Omar White.

Merchant, the team's starting quarterback, was ejected from the game during last Friday's loss to Parry McCluer.  As a result, he'll catch the Liberty game only as a spectator.

White, a dynamic halfback, was dinged up fairly badly during that same game.  If high schools put out injury reports similar to what the NFL publishes, it would show Merchant as "out" and White as "questionable."

That means that, for the second consecutive weekend, Liberty will be playing a team that lacks at least one of the most critical pieces of its offense.  Staunton River started last Friday evening with Deshawn Martin hobbling on the sidelines.  His replacement, Quannie Blake, was later transported from the field via ambulance, leaving the Eagles with a less-than-optimal staffing in the backfield.

Liberty may also be at less-than 100% of its offensive potency.  Fullback Devin Carper was an early departee from the Staunton River fete, favoring one of his lower appendages.  Carper is a tenacious bulldog, though Markel Bonds and MJ Parker proved they are viable alternatives.

Still, "Rockbridge is big and physical and will get after you," said Liberty Head Coach Chris Watts.

He speaks from experience.  It was just two games ago that those Wildcats got after his Minutemen. 

 

Who to scope

In particular, we recommend watching three Wildcats.  Adam Doll-Hennis (#6), Austin Clark (76) and Richie Tomlin (74).

  Doll-Hennis is a tight end and inside linebacker who has Division One written all over him.  Clark, a lineman, already has received at least a half-dozen offers, from the likes of Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Maryland.  Tomlin is a mass of humanity, a three-year starter on the defensive line and an All-Blue Ridge first teamer last season.

The big drama, of course, lies in which reserve quarterback Head Coach Jason White will opt to plug in for Merchant.  At this point, it seems he has three options:  junior Daniel Trout or sophomores Dylan Sherman or Dalton Camden.

It would appear last season's all-everything quarterback Porter Abell will be missed by the Wildcat faithful no greater than during this upcoming weekend.