By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY September 13, 2002 Nothing is sweeter than a come-from-behind victory. Just ask the varsity football coaching staff at Liberty Central School.
Monday afternoons non-league game was the first of the 2002 season for both the visiting Tri-Valley Bears and Liberty Indians.
In a sweltering hot afternoon of football, the home team was down 6-0 at the half.
But then the Indians got their act together and started to pull in the same direction under the field generalship of 16-year-old junior quarterback Andrew Riegler.
Riegler scored two second half touchdowns to lead Liberty to a 14-6 victory over T-V (0-1).
At 1:14 remaining in the second quarter, T-Vs David Felder scampered across the goal line with a 44-yard TD run on fourth-and-three. It was a risky play, but the Bears pulled it off to take a 6-0 lead at the half. However, the PAT kick failed.
We played good until the second half, said Felder, a 17-year-old senior fullback/running back.
Asked about scoring his teams only points of the game, Felder replied, It was alright . . . well see them again this year, and well come back with more intensity.
In the wake of a couple of field goals that were wide of the mark and stalled drives, the Indians had their backs to the wall as they faced a determined opponent.
After a scoreless third quarter, fortune smiled on Liberty (1-0) in the final quarter.
With a shade more than nine minutes remaining in the contest, Riegler connected with Matt Black on a 40-yard aerial rocket, the longest of the afternoon for Liberty. Then, with the Indians at the T-V 9-yard line, Anthony Couitt crashed through the Bears defensive line to the 1-yard line. On a quarterback keeper play, Riegler tied it up 6-6 at 7:39. Joe Colacurcio split the uprights with the PAT kick, putting the Indians in the lead 7-6.
On the subsequent kickoff, Felder narrowly averted becoming the games goat, as he fumbled the ball but managed to regain control and take it across the field to the 15-yard line for the Bears.
But it was all for naught, as in the final moments, T-V started to lose steam following an offsides penalty and when the Indians Ryan Martin swatting down a desperation Joe Garigliano pass in a third-and-15 situation.
At 1:29, Liberty iced the game on an improvised touchdown carry by Riegler. He was setting up for a pass, but decided to run the ball into paydirt after finding the pocket blocked by some hard-charging Bears.
The successful PAT by Colacurcio gave the Indians a 14-6 victory in the closing minutes of a hard-fought game under an unrelenting sun.
I just took it up the middle, Riegler said of what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
Riegler, a 16-year-old junior is in his second year as Libertys varsity quarterback.
It was great to win a game, but we have a long way to go, he added.
For Liberty, Couitt rushed 17 times for 64 yards, while Riegler carried 5 times for 15 yards and 2 TDs and was 7-for-9 in the air for 152 yards and 1 interception.
Defensively, a trio of Indians Black, Ryan Martin and Pedro Mercado picked off T-V passes.
T-V Coach David Viglione served under the legendary Max Stolzenberg as assistant coach for the past three years.
His previous coaching experience includes stints at Wallkill and Warwick high schools and as a graduate assistant coach for a season at Lehigh (Pa.) University.
Im disappointed in the results of the game. he said. In the middle of the third quarter I thought we had Liberty on the ropes, but they came back. Liberty showed a lot of guts and fortitude . . . they fought hard and came back.
His prediction for the year?
If we can improve week by week, well be very competitive, said Viglione. When this team gets it together, were going to surprise a lot of people.
Liberty Coach Mike Castelli took to the field nursing a broken arm, which was the result of an accident while attempting to move a large wood stove.
The stove won, Castelli lost.
I wish I could say it was a sports accident, he said almost wistfully
His take on the season opener?
I think it was a hard-fought game on both sides, said Castelli. Tri-Valley came out and played hard . . . they got one good run around our containment. After that, it was a one-play first half.
I told them (that) they needed to take it the extra mile, to stay with what was working, he said of his halftime talk with the Indians. We didnt change our defensive alignment or our offensive scheme . . . and it worked.
According to Castelli, the Liberty football numbers are down this year. As a result, the team roster consists of both JV and varsity players.
Asked to dust off his crystal ball and make a prediction for the new gridiron season, Castelli pulled out his standard answer and said, I never make predictions, (because) they can come back and bite you in the butt.
Im looking forward to a positive season, he said. Well see what happens.