By Rob Potter
LIBERTY The outcome of Saturday afternoon’s Class C Division I football game between the James I. O’Neill Raiders and the host Liberty Indians was in doubt until the final minute.
With 35.7 seconds remaining in the game and O’Neill clinging to a 14-13 lead, Liberty lined up for a potential game-winning, 21-yard field goal. Kicker Ryan Henry booted the ball solidly, but it sailed wide right of the uprights.
O’Neill took over possession of the ball at its own 20-yard line and quarterback Keegan West took a knee to run out the clock and preserve his team’s one-point victory.
The Raiders scored what became the winning touchdown with 11:24 remaining in the fourth quarter. Junior running back Jerry Nasi sprinted to the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown to pull the Raiders within a point at 13-12. Nasi then ran for the 2-point conversion to put O’Neill up 14-13.
After a scoreless first quarter, O’Neill (2-1, 1-0 Class C) took a 6-0 lead when Nasi ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 9:48 left in the second quarter.
But Liberty (2-1, 0-1 Class C) quickly responded with a scoring drive of its own. The Indians moved 66 yards in 10 plays to take the lead. Quarterback Marshon Williams capped the drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Henry with 4:15 to go in the quarter. Henry then booted the ball through the uprights to give Liberty a 7-6 advantage at halftime.
The Indians increased their lead in the third quarter. With 6:29 on the scoreboard clock, senior running back Anthony Covington ran up the middle for a 20-yard touchdown. The PAT kick was no good, but Liberty had a 13-6 advantage.
“It’s football,” Liberty Coach John Wilhelm said of the missed field goal at the end of the game.
He was quick to point out that the miss was not the only reason Liberty lost the game.
“We hurt ourselves with too many penalties,” Wilhelm said. “But we did play well. Anthony Covington ran hard, Kenny Jaycox ran hard and Marshon Williams ran hard. And Marshon had some really nice passes to Ryan Henry.
“We did put ourselves in a position to win,” Wilhelm added. “Hopefully, the next one goes our way.”
Wilhelm noted that the Indians have two big Class C Div. I games coming up. On Friday night, the Indians will host Ellenville. Then on Thursday, Oct. 6, the Indians will play at Sullivan West.
“We don’t want to be 0-3 in the division,” he commented. “We have our work cut out for us.”
Williams paced the Liberty rushing attack with 74 yards on 16 carries. Covington ran 11 times for 52 yards and a touchdown and Jaycox carried the ball eight times for 39 yards.
Williams completed 7 of 12 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.
Henry was the Indians’ leading receiver as he caught three passes for 83 yards and a TD. Javier Baez had two receptions for nine yards and Covington made two catches for 15 yards.
“Our kids showed unbelievable heart today,” O’Neill Coach Anthony Finochioy said. “They played with the heart of a champion. I am so impressed. I’ve never seen a group of young men that played through adversity like this before.”
Finochioy noted that halftime adjustments paid off.
“We knew when we came out in the second half we had to establish Raider football again and run the ball and my kids did that,” he said. “The offensive line did an unbelievable job of blocking, including the tight ends.”
Nasi finished the game with 141 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Eric Wallace led the Raiders’ defense by making 15 tackles.