By Ted Waddell
MIDDLETOWN “Mistakes are what killed us,” said Sullivan West Coach Ron Bauer in the wake of the Bulldogs’ 17-13 upset loss to the Liberty Indians on Friday afternoon in a Section IX Class C football semifinal game at Middletown High School’s Faller Field.
With the win, Liberty (5-4) is headed to the Section IX Class C championship game. The third-seeded Indians will meet regular season champion and No. 1-seeded Ellenville Blue Devils at 3 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 7 at Dietz Stadium in Kingston.
Ellenville reached the title game by defeating fourth-seeded Millbrook, 30-7, in the other Class C semifinal game, which was played at Dietz Stadium in Kingston.
In the Class C regular season game between the Blue Devils and Indians on Oct. 3 at Liberty Central School, Ellenville prevailed, 36-6.
SW finished its season with a 7-2 record.
The Bulldogs’ had several “mis-barks” on Friday afternoon. Those miscues included four high snaps from center two of which were converted into safeties for the Indians, an onsides kickoff which Liberty recovered and three interceptions.
Liberty elected to receive the opening kickoff. But the drive stalled and SW took over at the Indians’ 35-yard line.
At 6:09 in the first quarter, Latti Rabii scored for the Bulldogs. The PAT kick by Artie Norden was good, and SW was up 7-0.
Liberty’s Michael McLean picked off a pass by Bulldogs’ junior quarterback Ryan Alsdorf, giving the Indians possession at the 14-yard line. But the scoring opportunity ran out of gas.
On the next Bulldogs’ possession, the Indians’ surging defensive line teamed up to sack Alsdorf. A couple of plays later, the first of SW’s wild snaps from center was booted into the end zone by a quick-thinking linesman, but the safety put the Indians on the scoreboard.
At the 9:13 mark of the second quarter, Liberty picked up another safety, the result of a high snap from center, and now trailed the Bulldogs, 7-4.
Indians’ senior running back Brandon Tompkins punched it across the goal line at 7:49, but he was stopped on the two-point conversion play.
Tompkins’ TD gave Liberty a 10-7 lead.
After the Indians recovered an onsides kickoff, Tompkins rushed it down to about the 12-yard line, and then down to the 2. At 6:55, quarterback Marshon Williams took it across the goal line on a keeper to put Liberty up, 16-7.
Kris Merklin’s PAT kick cleared the uprights to make it a 17-7 game.
McLean picked off a pass late in the second quarter, setting up the Indians with a first-and-10 at the 31-yard line. Eddie Soto almost made it across the goal line, but the drive fizzled.
With 44.9 seconds left until halftime, Alsdorf connected with Rabii for a TD pass to make it a 17-13 ballgame.
The second half was marked by a series of turnovers and both teams gave up possession on fourth-down situations.
Early in the fourth quarter, McLean intercepted another Bulldogs’ pass near the goal line, and returned it to the 37-yard line.
Tompkins was tabbed as the game’s Most Valuable Offensive Player, while McLean was honored as the Most Valuable Defensive Player.
Williams paced the Liberty offense with 21 carries for 77 yards and a TD; Tompkins ran nine times for 73 yards and a TD and Soto gained 43 yards on two carries.
In addition to McLean’s three interceptions, Tompkins and Nelson Saravia made 22 tackles and nine tackles, respectively, for the Liberty defense.
The Bulldogs outpaced Liberty with 188 yards rushing yards.
Alsdorf completed 8 of 17 passes for 72 yards.
Anthony Nicoletti, Mike Schmidt and Mark Tesseyman all made seven tackles to lead the Bulldogs’ defense. Brandon Wagner added six tackles.
“It was a good [first] half, but our mistakes cost us,” Bauer said. “We had some chances at the end to get in there, but we just didn’t get the blocks.”
After Liberty’s come-from- behind upset victory, Coach John Wilhelm told his team, “It was a tremendous effort, you guys have come so far… [but] it’s back to work Monday.”
“You guys are great,” he continued. “You guys are wonderful.”
Wilhelm’s take on the win?
“It was just a tremendous game, hat’s off to Sullivan West, they have a great football team,” he said. “I’m just so proud of our kids.”
SW will be losing nine seniors to graduation next June: Michael Bingay, Austin Erlwein, Gabe LaGrutta, Chris Murphy, Artie Norden, Latti Rabii, Mike Schmidt, Shawn Taylor and Mark Tesseyman.