By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY October 18, 2005 The past is prologue.
On Saturday, history repeated itself as the luckless Liberty Indians were defeated 26-0 by the visiting Ellenville Blue Devils in a Section IX Class B football game.
The Blue Devils were led by Bryan Alexander, who walked off the muddy field wearing the mantle of Alexander the Great after scoring three touchdowns and racking up 113 yards on 20 carries.
If heart could have carried the day, the Indians would have walked off the field with their first victory of the season on Homecoming day. But it was not to be as the young team pulled together at the last minute by a trio of coaches (Jim OConnor, Phil Fanning and Jon Wilhelm) in order to save Libertys varsity football program was overmatched physically and hurt by their own inexperience on the gridiron.
At 7:07 in the opening quarter, Alexander scored his first TD, but the determined Indians defense blocked the PAT kick.
In the final 30 seconds of the first quarter, Ellenville (2-5, 2-4 Class B) came up short on a fourth-and-inches situation as Liberty (0-7, 0-6 Class B) stopped the Blue Devils cold in their tracks.
About halfway through the second quarter, Liberty quarterback Corey VanKeuren completed a pass to Mike Sarno. But on the next play VanKeuren was rewarded by the Blue Devils defense with a proverbial bell-ringing sack.
The Blue Devils took possession in the wake of the Indians running out of downs, but had their drive stopped cold when Libertys Shane Fitzsimmons pounced on a backfield fumble. Capitalizing on the recovery, the Indians seemed like they were headed for the end zone, but it was not to be.
VanKeuren connected with Sarno for 15 yards, Dave Brown rushed 20-some yards and VanKeuren got trapped behind the line of scrimmage and had to sprint for a short gain. But on a fourth down, a pass to Sarno in the end zone barely eluded his desperately outstretched fingertips.
On the opening drive of the second half, Alexander took it down to the Indians 2-yard line.
Later in the quarter, Liberty recovered an Ellenville fumble on a third-and-two play. After a short gain on the ground, VanKeuren pitched out to Brown, who raced around right end for a first down to get the home team out of a hole deep in its own territory.
After the teams exchanged fumbles, Ellenville stopped the Indians march.
At the 2:19 mark, Ellenville quarterback Robert Conner hooked up with Alexander on a TD reception. The PAT kick cleared the uprights, and the Blue Devils were up 13-0.
With just 23 seconds left in the third quarter, Liberty attempted a fake punt with a pitch out to Brown, but the play came up short and Ellenville took over possession near the Indians 40-yard line.
Six seconds later, Conner handed off to Alexander, who raced 40-plus yards into the end zone. A successful PAT kick gave the Blue Devils a commanding 20-0 lead.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Liberty coughed up the pigskin, and by 8:45 Ellenvilles Byron Karow had taken it down to the home teams 1-foot line. On third down, Karow was stopped about 6 inches short of the goal line.
On fourth down, Conner handed the football off to Alexander, who took it across the line around the left side. For the second time of the afternoon, Liberty blocked the PAT kick.
As the clock ticked away the final seconds, VanKeuren attempted a pass, but it was intercepted by a ball hawking Brian Vanderhoff at the 35.
For Liberty, David Brown carried the ball nine times for 46 yards, John Snyder had nine carries for 26 yards, Corey VanKeuren ran five times for 11 yards, Trevor Tompkins had three rushes for 7 yards and Peter Panagakos ran once for 3 yards.
VanKeuren completed two passes for 20 yards and both passes were caught by Mike Sarno.
Libertys Rob Silva recovered a fumble.
For Ellenville, Bryon Karow carried eight times for 36 yards, Steven Coutant ran three times for 21 yards, Andrew Casey had five carries for 17 yards, Robert Conner carried the ball three times for 12 yards and Jonathan Vargas rushed three times for 12 yards.
After Spackenkill, we finally have the right combination, said Ellenville Coach Tony Boriello, referring to the fact that his team recorded its first victory of the season against Spackenkill the previous weekend. We had the right rotation of players, linemen in and out in the right defensive situations.
Boriello said he expected Liberty to throw more, but after sorting things out in the first half, adjusted to the muddy ground after they reached solid turf under our feet, once past a chewed up midfield.
They pretty much stopped us in the first half, he added. Liberty has a lot of heart.
Jim OConnor was there back in 1996 when his first Liberty varsity football team didnt win a game. He was there when the Indians started back up the ladder, with records of 1-7 in 1999, 6-4 in 2000, 10-0 for a Section IX Class C title in 2001 and 6-3 in 2002 right up until the program folded a couple of years ago due to not enough players.
As a coach, Ive been down this road before, OConnor said.
After getting hammered on Homecoming day, a couple of seniors walked off by themselves to reflect on the winless season. Peter Panagakos pulled off his helmet and leaned up against a goalpost, while Sarno stripped off his pads and jersey, laid down on the muddy field and stared at the sky.
OConnor gave them a few minutes of peace before walking out on the field, but prior to talking with his players, said, They gave it their all today
theyre all trying their hardest
these kids gave everything they had.
As we walked with them back to the locker room, OConnor said they were pioneers, leading the way, keeping a Liberty tradition of football alive for years down the road.
Well, you saw a varsity football game today, Fanning said. Last year, people didnt have anything.