By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY September 14, 2007 In Saturday’s varsity football game between a couple of teams with championship pennants from previous seasons on their gymnasium walls, the home team Liberty Indians (2-0) jumped out to a 15-0 lead in the first half, only to watch as the Yellowjackets of Eldred (1-1) came surging back with a determined ground attack in the second half to come within a point of tying the game.
In the wake of Liberty’s Brandon Tompkins blocking a fourth quarter field goal attempt by Eldred, the Indians hung in there to win, 15-14.
Early in the first quarter, both teams exchanged fumble recoveries, as a case of the jitters caused the ball to slip away.
The Indians scored at 1:59 on a 34-yard pass into the end zone from Joseph Ruiz to Ivan Rivera. Tompkins’ PAT kick cleared the uprights to give Liberty a 7-0 lead.
Eldred’s Kojo Williams took the kickoff return downfield for a substantial gain. But on the opening play of the Yellowjackets’ drive, Liberty’s Pedro Alvarez picked up a fumble and ran it 39 yards for a touchdown with 1:42 remaining in the opening quarter.
Dustin VanLieu hauled in a 2- point conversion pass to put the Indians up 15-0.
On the ensuing kickoff return, Eldred’s Tom Compasso broke out for some good yardage to about midfield.
On the first play of the second quarter, Eldred faked a punt and took it down to about the Liberty 34. But on the next play, the Yellowjackets coughed it up on a fumble and Tony Hernandez recovered for the Indians.
Late in the first half, the Yellow jackets started to play their traditional kind of football, grinding out the yardage with the running game. It was a trend that almost carried the day for Eldred in the second half but was a case of too little, too late.
At 4:32 of the third quarter, Compasso took it down to the Liberty 1-yard line. A play later, he scored to cut the Indians’ advantage to nine points at 15-6.
The subsequent PAT kick came up short, so Eldred still trailed by nine.
With about a minute left in the third quarter, Eldred’s Cody Conklin picked up an Indians punt that went astray and took it down deep into home team territory.
On the first play of Eldred’s possession, Tompkins sacked Yellow Jackets quarterback Bryan Henry.
In the final play of the quarter, Eldred’s Kevin Prunka broke several tackles and was finally hauled down to the turf at the Liberty 17-yard line.
Early in the fourth quarter, Tompkins intercepted what looked life a sure fire Yellowjacket touchdown pass. But the interception was called back on a defensive holding call, which gave Eldred possession at half the distance to the goal line.
The Yellowjackets scored on a short scamper by Chris Leader and Joe Counts followed up the TD with a 2-point conversion run around the right side to make it a 15-14 game.
Moments later, a Tompkins punt was blocked by Eldred’s Chris Mehedin, giving the Yellowjackets the ball at Liberty’s 18-yard line.
Compasso crashed through the line to the Indians’ 7-yard line as Liberty’s former football great Chris Sinceno, who is now a Liberty assistant coach, yelled out to the home team defense, “Right here, right now. Give it everything you’ve got!”
Eldred attempted a field goal, but in what proved to be a pivotal play of the game, an offensive player missed a key block and Brandon Tompkins stepped into the breach to block the kick, giving the Indians a first-and-10 at their own 20.
With about three minutes remaining on the game clock, Trevor Tompkins took the ball up the middle to near midfield.
At 1:56, Tompkins was robbed of another TD, as his scamper into paydirt was negated by an offensive holding penalty.
On Eldred’s next possession, Prunka took it around the right side and ran down to about the Liberty 30. But the drive was cut down as the clock ran out.
“I think we came out flat, they wanted it right away,” veteran Eldred Coach Frank Kean said.
“We got down 15 to nothing, and had to try to struggle back,” he added. “You can’t struggle from behind… if we started the first half like we did the second half, we would have won 30 to nothing.
“We missed an assignment on that field goal, and it messed up the whole thing,” Kean said. “One guy missed his block.”
Liberty Coach Jim O’Connor in part credited his squad’s current 2-0 record with Liberty with, for the first time in years, having players move up through the ranks: from modified to junior varsity to the varsity level of competition.
“These kids know football,” he said.
His take on the game?
According to O’Connor, key plays on the road to winning were the Liberty defensive converting a fumble recovery into a TD, the blocked field goal and “Trevor Tompkins and the VanLieus [Dustin and Ryan] out there just grinding it away.
“Eldred has a great ball team, and they’ve won championships,” O’Connor added. “They know how to win. Good teams come back but we held ‘em at the end.”