By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY September 9, 2005 For the Indians of Liberty, reconstituted after a two-year hiatus of varsity football, last Saturdays season opener turned into a Dog Day Afternoon as the Indians were defeated by the Highland Huskies, 41-0.
Two years ago, the Indians managed to get one game under their belt before they were forced to cancel the varsity program due to a lack of numbers. Last year, the program never got off the ground, but due to the efforts of some coaches working in the background, Liberty was able to rebuild their varsity football team for the 2005 season.
But a couple of rapid-fire plays by the Huskies special teams on Saturday made it a 14-0 ballgame within the first four minutes of the first quarter. On the second snap of the contest, Highlands David Baker broke up the middle and raced to paydirt at 11:33. The PAT kick was blocked by a determined Liberty defense.
At 9:22, Highlands Romaine Simon rushed for a 12-yard TD. Ryan Devoe rolled around the right end for the 2-point conversion, putting the visitors up 14-0.
Later in the frame, the Indians were faced with a goal-line stand as the Huskies were howling for a score on a fourth-and-five situation. Liberty stopped the Huskies and took possession deep in their own territory. But the drive stalled.
At 3:40, Highland (1-0) arced a field goal through the uprights, making it a 17-0 ballgame.
Late in the first quarter, Liberty (0-1) replaced senior quarterback Corey VanKeuren with sophomore Joe Ruiz. But in the second period VanKeuren returned to the game after Ruiz was shaken up while being sacked by an Highland defender.
With a couple of minutes remaining in the first quarter, Highland was penalized for unnecessary roughness, which gave the Indians the ball near midfield. Ruiz was sacked and the Huskies were flagged for a facemask penalty. Moments later, the Liberty drive fizzled.
The Indians started the second period with an offensive holding call, and then managed to recover their own fumble. On a punt return, the Huskies return man broke several tackles, slipping down to the Liberty 35.
Highland picked up an easy 5 yards thanks to an Indians defense encroachment penalty. A pass completion to Simon left Highland a couple of yards short of a first down near the goal line, giving Liberty the ball at its own 6.
As Ruiz tried to pass his way out of trouble, Highlands Daniel Berta picked off the pass intended for Troy Bertholf at the Indians 11-yard line and Ruiz was banged up on the play. Liberty Coach Jim O'Connor exploded along the sidelines, taking his offense linemen to task for failing to protect their quarterback.
With four minutes remaining until halftime, Simon scored on a 5-yard run. The PAT was good, and Highland was up 28-0.
Libertys hard-charging Trevor Tompkins looked like he was headed for the goal line on the ensuing kickoff return, but was hauled down by the back of his jersey. A couple of plays later, Tompkins picked up some yardage around the right side of the line, setting up a third-and-five situation. The home team offense picked up a 10-yard penalty, making it a third-and-15 situation. On fourth down near midfield, the Indians decided to go for it, but VanKeuren fumbled at the line of scrimmage, giving the Huskies possession.
On the first play the drive, Highlands Matt Prince looked like he was headed for a touchdown, but was pushed out of bounds at the last second by Libertys Andre Brand. A penalty call against the Huskies negated that drive to the goal line.
On the second play of the third quarter, Tompkins grabbed a few yards for the home team, but on the next play was hauled down in the backfield. On the following snap, VanKeuren was sacked. Forced to punt, Liberty watched Prince return it 34 yards to about the Indians 10. On third-and-four, Devoe attempted a pass to Mikiah Downing, but it was broken up in the end zone by Libertys Mike Sarno.
At 7:06 in the third, Prince took it in for a score, but the PAT kick was blocked. However, Highland still held a commanding 34-0 advantage.
In the opening snap of the final frame, Downing took up the middle for significant yardage. A couple of plays later, it was second-and-10 after Highlands QB got backed up on a keeper.
At 10:04, Prince sailed over the edge the lefthand corner of the goal line for the final touchdown of the game. The PAT was good, putting the Huskies up 41-0.
The Indians Dave Brown sprinted for a 33-yard kickoff return, but a couple of plays later, Liberty coughed up the ball on a fumble.
With about four minutes left on the game clock, Shane Fitzsimmons came off the home team bench to sack Highlands QB. As the clock ticked away, Tompkins picked up yardage down the left side.
With 11 seconds remaining in the game, Liberty tried to get on the scoreboard with a field goal, but it was just wide to the left.
I think the game went about as we expected, Highland Coach Carl Relyea said. At the beginning of the game, we made some big plays and took control.
OConnor wasnt satisfied with his teams performance, but on the flip side was thrilled to be back at the helm of a varsity football program.
We didnt play up to our potential, he said. Those two quick touchdowns broke our back.
It was basic fundamental football, added OConnor, promising that on Mondays practice it would be back to fundamentals and conditioning for the Indians.
At a practice session late last week, OConnor told his team that the game of football is all about being a gamer
banging heads down to the last quarter.
In the wake of being shut out in their season opener, Libertys coach was still heads up about the future.
I dont think we were outmanned, OConnor said. We just broke down on basic mental stuff and the fundamentals.