By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY September 19, 2006 There is good consistency, and then there is not so good consistency.
The Liberty Central School varsity football team is coming off a 0-9 season in 2005. And after suffering a 49-20 defeat to the visiting Tri-Valley Bears on Saturday in a non-league game, the Indians are now 0-3 this season.
Although Liberty is still looking for its first gridiron win of 2006, the coaches and players still come back for more as they refuse to call it quits not because of numbers posted in a scorebook, but because of the desire to hang in there for the spirit of competition.
In Saturday’s outing against the T-V (2-1), both teams took to the playing field in good physical condition thanks to preparation by their respective coaches. But the Bears’ level of experience and calm under fire carried the afternoon, as they scored the big victory.
At 8:01 of the first quarter, T-V quarterback Dustin Van Lieu connected on a pass to Kevin Drown to give the Bears a first-and-10 at the Indians’ 20-yard line. Kevin Smith then carried it down to the 4-yard line to set up a first-and-goal.
Smith charged across the goal line at 6:39. The extra-point kick cleared the uprights, and the Bears were up 7-0.
On the ensuing Liberty possession, quarterback Andre Brand attempted a pass to Justin Mills, but it was picked off by the Bears. However, the officials ruled that the interception was made out of bounds and the Indians retained possession of the ball.
At about the 5:30 mark, the Indians fumbled the snap. But Trevor Tompkins pounced on the ball to keep it in the hands of the home team.
Later in the quarter, T-V had the ball and a screen pass produced a first down.
On the next play, T-V’s Kyle Byrne broke it around the right side to set up a second-and-one. With 50 seconds remaining in the opening quarter, Brendan Musa carried it down to near the goal line. As time ran out, he advanced it to about the 1-yard line.
At 11:55 of the second quarter, Musa carried the ball to paydirt. Another successful extra-point kick gave the Bears a 14-0 advantage.
On its next possession, Liberty faced a third down. Brand tried a bail out pass to Raman Paten, but the officials ruled that Paten caught the ball when it was on the ground. The incomplete pass forced a punt by Tompkins.
Van Lieu hauled it the punt and returned it to about the Indians’ 20. He then threw a TD pass to Gary North with 9:25 remaining in the half. The PAT kick was good, and the Bears were in the proverbial driver’s seat with a 21-0 lead.
Tompkins returned the subsequent kickoff for some good yardage, giving Liberty possession on their own 40-yard line.
Moments later, Brand pulled off a heart-stopping pass completion to Justin Mills, giving the Indians a first- and-10 at the Bears’ 30.
After the Indians’ QB was almost sacked in the backfield, he hooked up on a pass to Mills near the T-V goal line even though Mills had to fight teammate Marcus Hunter for possession of the ball.
Sometimes it’s not a good idea to have two receivers battle each other for the ball, but the Indians got away with it.
On the first down play, Tompkins was nailed at the line of scrimmage by a determined T-V defense. But on second down, Brand took it around the right side for a touchdown with 5:37 left until halftime.
The extra-point kick was wide to the left, but Liberty had reduced the Bears’ lead to 21-6.
On the kickoff return, Van Lieu ran it back to the T-V 42. At 3:50, he connected with Sean Drown on a long pass to set up the Bears with a first-and-10 at the Liberty 15.
About 35 seconds later, Van Lieu completed a desperation TD pass to Musa, extending the T-V advantage to 27-6. ball game a 3:14. The PAT kick was blocked and the score remained the same.
The Bears’ Nick Cassidy picked off a Liberty pass at 1:03, giving his team possession on the Indians’ 25.
With five seconds left in the quarter, Drown caught a pass from Van Lieu in the end zone. The PAT kick was good, giving the Bears a 34-6 lead at halftime
At the 8:12 mark of the third quarter, Van Lieu connected with Musa on a scoring pass. In the wake of a successful extra-point kick, T-V led 41-6.
With about four minutes remaining in the quarter, the Bears were forced to punt deep in their own territory, and the ball was downed by Drown at the Liberty 39.
At 3:41, Brand connected with Hunter on a pass of more than 60 yards to thrill the home team fans.
Among those fans was Liberty Class of 1994 graduate Kaseem Sinceno, who played at Syracuse University and then was a member of two National Football League teams, the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles, before he retired from professional football. Sinceno was cheering from the sidelines after having his Liberty #17 jersey retired during a halftime ceremony.
Tompkins was stopped at the line of scrimmage on the two-point conversion attempt following Hunter’s touchdown and T-V was still up 41-12.
Tompkins kicked short, giving the Bears the ball on their own 40, and following back-to-back carries by Musa and Byrne, T-V had a first down at the Liberty 20.
A surging Indians defense forced a fumble, and, although the Bears recovered, they were set back eight yards, making it fourth-and-12.
At the 40-second mark, Musa fumbled in the end zone, but Bo Murphy landed on it for a Bears’ TD.
The Indians defense blocked the PAT kick, but T-V enjoyed a 47-12 advantage.
As time ran out in the third quarter, Tompkins ran it 40-some yards down to the Bears’ 20. With seconds left, Troy Bertholf made it down to the T-V 14.
With 11 minutes left in the final quarter, Tompkins pounded it out to set up a first and goal situation at the Bears’ 3. He then took it around the right on a sweep for a TD to make a 47-18 contest.
Liberty went for two points, and under a lot of pressure, Brand ran around the left into the end zone to make it a 47-20 game.
At 3:47 the ever present Tompkins recovered a fumble, stopping the Bears at the Liberty 10.
On a third-and-14, Brand pitched out to Hunter who was brought down behind the line for a loss.
Tompkins picked up about 25 yards to Liberty’s 37 on a double reverse. But the play was nullified on a call for a block in the backfield a call that had Liberty Coach Jim O’Connor yelling for mercy late in the game pushed the Indians back for a second-and-20 at their own 2.
Drown then broke up a Van Lieu pass to Mills.
Faced with a fourth-and-20, Tompkins was setting up to punt. But a high snap from center sailed over his head, and T-V recorded a safety to close out the scoring with 2:06 left in the contest.
“It was a hard-hitting game, but Tri-Valley showed up some of our greenness,” O’Connor said. “We had some bright spots here and there, but mental breakdowns lost points.”
T-V Coach John Rusin summed up the game in a few words.
“I was a very hard fought game on both sides,” he said. “Things just happened to go our way, and the kids did a good job of opening up some holes.”
As Liberty fights to shake off a winless record carried over from last season, Tompkins kneeled along the along the sidelines moments before the final whistle with sweat streaming off his face.
“You just wait, we’re going to win one,” he said, exemplifying the spirit of a team that refuses to throw in the towel no matter what the final score is.