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Some guys act tough.
Some guys ARE tough.
The tough-acting guys strut and preen and talk nonsense.
The true tough guys suit up and knock your block off.
Put Liberty’s Thomas Clark into that second camp.
Clark was the marquee performer in Liberty’s 43-10 annihilation of Rustburg.
The win kept the Minutemen in the hunt for at least a piece of the Seminole crown and left them atop the Region III Division 3 points board (see page 5B).
With one game remaining, the M-Men have an excellent chance of matching last year’s 9-1 record.
But, back to Clark.
You see, this was no ordinary game for the young man.
This was Senior Night, his last regular season game at Minutemen Stadium.
There’s always an emotional component tied up with Senior Night and the parade of student-athletes and their parents.
Only for Clark, it was different.
His mother passed away , of breast cancer, when he was but a lad.
When Clark was introduced at the start of the game, a bunch of pink and white balloons were released in honor of his absent mother.
You would think such an emotional sledgehammer might leave a young man in a daze.
Instead, it seemed to inspire young Mr. Clark.
-It inspired him to the tune of 133 yards and four rushing touchdowns.
-It inspired him to average over 10 yards a carry.
-It inspired him to pick off a Craig Paulhus pass and return it 38 yards for yet another touchdown.
There’s one final note on Clark’s game.
Last week, against Jefferson Forest, the Minutemen had worn pink shoelaces as part of the breast cancer awareness activities.
Against Rustburg, they were back to regular, more mundane colors.
Clark sheepishly asked Liberty Head Coach Chris Watts if he could wear the laces another week, in honor of his mom.
Watts readily approved the request.
Here’s some unsolicited advice to Clark. Wear those laces to every game. Wear them in the playoffs. Wear them when you take the SATs. Wear those laces to your first job interview. Wear them at your wedding.
This one had all the makings of a Rustburg upset, particularly when the Red Devils opened strongly.
It took them but two plays from scrimmage to find paydirt and open up a 7-0 lead.
That first strike came when Paulhus kept off the option and scooted for a 31-yard TD.
“We were out of position,” explained Watts. “They came out with a different blocking scheme.”
Not to worry. The Minutemen made some quick adjustments, and those paid off almost immediately.
In fact, the next time the Rusties got the ball, Liberty’s Doug Schaeffer was able to corral Rustburg halfback Marcus Jones for a safety, cutting the lead to 7-2.
Following the free kick, Liberty quarterback Kody Outhong got the Liberty option offense going. He saw what he liked, kept and scooted 37 yards for Liberty’s first lead.
The M-Men would not look back.
How could they, with Clark running wild?
On Rustburg’s subsequent possession, Clark sniffed out a slant route and positioned himself to make the interception grab in stride. He put on a couple of nice moves en route to a 38-yard score.
The senior then reeled off four more touchdowns on runs of seven, 34, two and 11 yards.
“Thomas Clark is a workhorse kind of kid,” praised Watts. “He really is a great kid.”
Clark is the kind of person who, having given his all on Friday night, heads to Liberty Lake Park to cheer on the pee-wee players.
He wasn’t alone, though, on Friday night. Outhong rang up 63 yards on only nine carries.
Anthony Reynolds put up 66 yards on but eight carries.
You know the interior line must have been punching some holes to give fullback Clark the daylight he needed.
Defensively, the Minutemen were led by the always-brutal Mike Bowyer and the unassuming, but dangerous, Quintell Starks.
For the game, Bowyer was in on seven tackles, while Starks worked his way into eight.
Denis Schoen and Jerry Thompson seemed to do a nice job of stalling the Rusties on the line.
Meanwhile, Josh Smith had an interception that he returned 50 yards: the kind of play that makes a Rustburg fan ill.
Schoen and Reynolds each scooped up Rusty fumbles.
What’s to like
This was a good victory, in the vein of the Martinsville win.
In both games, Liberty fell behind early.
In both games, the Minutemen didn’t panic,
They stuck to their knitting and emerged with lopsided victories.
So what? Isn’t it bad to fall behind?
Sure, but those experiences have an effect of building confidence. As the regular season gives way to November’s post-season, there is a good likelihood that the M-Men will wind up in a tight duel.
They may find themselves behind an opponent.
Having successfully navigated themselves from a trailing position a time or two, the Minutemen should have some good points of reference.
Watts liked that it was a clean game. The Minutemen had only one fumble (they recovered it themselves) and only a couple minor penalties.
“At this point,” noted Watts,, “we’re just trying to polish and to reduce mistakes.”