By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY Blame it on Hurricane Hanna.
A steady rain from the remnants of Hanna pelted the football field at Liberty High School on Saturday afternoon, which caused 13 fumbles.
Or maybe it was a team that was stronger on this particular day, a team set on making up for a season-opening loss last autumn. In September 2007, the Bulldogs of Delhi lost to the visiting Liberty Indians, 26-22, in a non-league football game.
But in Saturday’s non-league contest that served as the 2008 season opener for both teams, the Bulldogs turned the tables by defeating the host Indians, 24-0.
As the ball slipped away in the rain, both teams lost possession, only to recover it again as the game clock ticked away.
Early in the first quarter, Liberty recovered a fumble and Ryan VanLieu picked up a first down. A few snaps later, a pitch out from Indians quarterback Christopher Lake to Brandon Tompkins picked up a first down.
But when the drive stalled, the home team was forced into a punting situation. Soon after the punt, Liberty (0-1) regained possession on another fumble as the football kept squirming away from both offenses.
Near the end of the opening quarter, Delhi QB Luke Burns took the snap, ran with the ball and was stopped near the 50-yard line.
At the start of the second quarter, a Bulldogs’ fourth down pass hit the wet grass and Liberty took over on downs near the 30-yard line. But Delhi (1-0) quickly regained possession as Burns intercepted a pass by Lake.
The Bulldogs capitalized on the turnover as Rich Ennis ran it into the end zone. Ennis followed up his touchdown with a two-point conversion run to put the Bulldogs up 8-0.
In the closing minutes of the first half, Tompkins intercepted a Burns’ pass.
But after the Indians were forced to punt, the Bulldogs’ Kyle Bishop cut the corner for significant yardage. With less than a minute left until halftime, the Indians’ defensive line finally listened to Coach Jim O’Connor’s pleas of “we need some penetration,” and sacked Burns.
The half ended with the visiting Delhi squad ahead 8-0. The second half started much like the first with both teams unable to move the ball.
With 1:34 remaining in the third quarter, Delhi extended its lead. Jack Fletcher scored a TD and then added two points on a conversion run to give the Bulldogs a 16-0 advantage.
Following some turnovers by both squads, Burns connected with Anthony Salerno on a TD pass with 7:06 remaining in the fourth quarter. Fletcher strolled into pay dirt on the two-point conversion to put Delhi up 24-0.
Unfortunately, two Liberty players suffered injuries in the game’s final moments. Tyler Bossert was sidelined when he got the wind knocked out of him. On the next snap, VanLieu went down with a knee injury and was transported to Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris for further treatment.
“We’re always happy to come out ahead,” said Dave Kelly, now in his 43rd year of coaching football at Delhi. “Liberty beat us nicely last year.
“We were happy to survive under these conditions, the ball was on the ground quite a bit,” Kelly added. “I thought we did enough things right defensively, and I’m very pleased with our offensive line. They kept things where they should be.”
Despite the loss, O’Connor was happy with how his team played.
“I couldn’t ask for a better effort under tough conditions,” he said. “Delhi had some real horses and an outstanding coach. I’m really proud of my kids, they didn’t back off at all.”
Lake summed up the game in a few words.
“Both teams came out ready to play football,” said the Indians’ senior QB. “They capitalized on our mistakes, but we didn’t capitalize on their mistakes.”
Liberty will face another team of Bulldogs this Saturday, Sept. 13. At 1:30 p.m., the Indians will host the Sullivan West Bulldogs in a Section IX Class C game.