By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY September 24, 2002 One thing was for sure in Saturdays non-league varsity football game between the Liberty Indians and the visiting Blue Devils of Roscoe.
Nobody fell asleep. Neither the players, nor the fans in the stands as the games lead whipsawed back and forth in the gridiron battle.
It was nip-and-tuck with less than five minutes remaining in the contest as the score was knotted at 22-22. But in the closing minutes, a Liberty PAT kick went wide and the Blue Devils scored two quick touchdowns to end the Indians short-lived undefeated streak.
Roscoe (3-0) remained unbeaten so far this season by winning the hard-fought game, 35-22.
Last year, Liberty (2-1) had a disappointing 0-9 record. But the Indians started this season with a pair of victories prior to Saturdays game.
Roscoe set the tone of the game on the opening play, as a virtually unstoppable Brian Ballard scampered 40 yards on the kickoff return.
At 6:32 in the first quarter, Roscoe went up by six as quarterback Justin Bowers connected with David Eggleton. Bowers passed to Eggleton again for the two point conversion to give Roscoe an 8-0 lead.
Apparently not phased by the rapid march into their end zone, Liberty responded with a touchdown at 2:29 as Anthony Couitt punched it over the goal line from four yards out. Andrew Riegler completed a pass to Matt Black of a 2-pointer conversion to tie it up 8-8.
Moments later, Eggleton intercepted a Riegler launch to stop a determined home team drive.
At 5:40 in the second quarter, Ballard shocked the Indians with a blistering 60-yard run into paydirt. Dan Park punched it over the goal line for the 2-point conversion to give the Blue Devils a 16-8 lead.
On the ensuing Liberty possession, Pedro Mercado raced for a healthy 27-yard gain. But the drive was stalled as Riegler hooked up with Black for a 26-yard gain, but the receiver bobbled and then fumbled the ball, only to watch Roscoe recover.
Then fate stepped in to give the Liberty good field position. On fourth down, a surging Liberty defensive player blocked Ballards punt. The Indians took over with 1:30 left in the first half on the Roscoe 9-yard line.
Riegler snuck it over the goal line from a yard out, and then elected to run it across the line on a 2-point conversion to tie the game, 16-16.
With less than a minute remaining before halftime, both teams fought to score, but it was not to be.
Liberty linebacker Chris Kusznir broke up an almost certain Roscoe reception that saw the intended receiver eyeing a lot of downfield daylight.
With eight seconds remaining in the first half, Bowers spiked the ball with the Blue Devils knocking at Libertys door from the 6-yard line, thus stopping the clock. Park thought he had it made in the shade as he ran it out of bounds around the left side to stop the ticker, but the refs ruled that time had expired.
In the early moments of the third quarter, Roscoe intercepted a Riegler pass, one of four interceptions of the afternoon for the Blue Devils.
At 8:46, Ballard scored on a 11- yard run to give Roscoe a 22-16 lead, but was stopped on the 2-point conversion.
Ballards TD caused a bit of a stir on the Liberty sidelines as Mercado, a senior wide receiver/linebacker leaned over to Renauld Buck and said, Aint no big thing . . . well get it back.
On the next Blue Devil possession Eggleton pulled off a juggling act to haul in a Bowers pass, for what was perhaps the catch of the day. But then fate looked the other way, as a pass was snagged in the end zone by Black to give Liberty possession of the ball on a touchback.
Liberty changed gears, as Riegler repeatedly handed off to Couitt for nice yardage.
As possession switched hands, Ballard took the kickoff, tried to cut across the turf, but was tackled by Riegler.
Eggleton picked up 16 yards on a shuffle pass, but the advance was curtailed when Ryan Martin recovered a fumble for the home team.
Then it was Mercados turn to shine. With about eight minutes on the game clock, he broke several tackles to take it down to the Blue Devils 19-yard line. On first and goal at the Roscoe five, he blasted around the left side for the touchdown. The PAT kick was wide, but the game was tied 22-22.
At the 2:42 mark in the final quarter, Bowers completed a 46-yard pass to Eggleton, who left the Indians defense sucking dust as he raced into the end zone. The PAT failed, but Roscoe was in the lead 28-22.
With 35 seconds left in the game, Ballard picked off a Riegler pass destined for Black and took off for an 81-yard TD. A successful PAT iced the cake at 35-22.
At the one-second mark, Park snagged Roscoes fourth interception of afternoon to end the game.
Liberty stats: On the ground, Mercado gained 97 yards on 17 carries; Couitt charged the line 10 times for 61 yards. Riegler was 4-for-8 in the air for 67 yards, and was intercepted four times.
Roscoe: Ballard picked up 161 yards on 18 carries, including three TDs; Eggleton pulled down 6 of 7 Bowers passes for 143 yards including two TDs and a 2-point conversion; and Tim Haas carried the ball 13 times for 36 yards. Bowers was 7-of-11 for a total of 154 yards, including two TDs and a conversion. Interceptions: Ballard (2), Eggleton (1) and Parks (1).
So far, were 3-0, but we have a lot of games to go . . . its one game at a time, Roscoe Coach Fred Ahart said.
Liberty Coach Mike Castelli summed up the game as hard-hitting on both sides.
It was 22-22 with a few minutes to go, and then they made the big play to Eggleton, said Castelli. We had our chance, but Ballard picked off our Hail Mary. It was a tough one to lose.
Mercado, a 17-year-old senior at Liberty, said the Indians attitude is a lot better than last year . . . the players are stepping up. Everybody wants to win. We dont want to go 0-9 again.
It was a rough game, said Ballard. The 19-year-old senior has been playing varsity ball at Roscoe for five seasons under the tutelage of Ahart.
According to Ahart, the big plays of the game for the Blue Devils were Bowers pass to Eggleton and the last minute interception by Ballard.
We didnt run too great today, so we relied on our passing game, said Eggleton. Our quarterback got time to get some good passes off.
It was a really rough game, added the 17-year-old senior receiver. Were taking it one game at a time, but were looking at the championships.