SULLIVAN COUNTY Liberty, Eldred vie for C and D football titles
After 60 plus games over three months, it’s come down to this: two Sullivan County high school football teams, Liberty and Eldred, will be playing this weekend in sectional title games.
A wild week of rescheduling due to the impact of Hurricane Sandy has actually moved both games from Middletown’s Faller Field to Kingston’s Dietz Stadium on Saturday. Eldred will play Chester at 4 p.m. and Liberty takes on O’Neill at 8 p.m.
Both games are rematches of games played earlier in the season in which both local teams lost. But Liberty has won six straight since its loss to O’Neill on September 14 and Eldred is a lot healthier since losing to Chester on October 12.
The Democrat spoke to all four coaches for the following previews of both games.
CLASS C FINAL
Liberty (7-2) vs. O’Neill (7-2)
Saturday, 8 p.m.
Dietz Stadium, Kingston
Liberty will be taking on James I. O’Neill (the 13th ranked team in the state) in the Section IX Class C championship game, a rematch of their contest in week 3 of the season and arguably the best matchup of the Section IX playoffs.
O’Neill won the week three league face-off blanking Liberty 21-0 in a mistake-prone game by Liberty. The Indians also couldn’t stop O’Neill quarterback Keegan West, who burned the Indians for 218 total yards and a touchdown.
Liberty was able to hold O’Neill’s potent running game led by Jerry Nasi to relatively modest 169 yards as a team. Nasi has averaged 179 yards per game this season with 25 touchdowns.
West is coming off a monster game against Sullivan West in which he completed 8-9 passes for 317 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions so surely Liberty cannot key on Nasi as much as they did in week 3.
Both teams go into Saturday’s match-up with identical overall and league records 7-2 (3-1 Class C Division I). Both teams are averaging more than 30 points per game this season, but Liberty who’s last loss was the week three game against O’Neill has been on a tear since that loss averaging 47.8 points and giving up only 8.5 points per game in that span. All of this has happened without their star player, running back Kenny Jaycox who went down with a season-ending knee injury.
The Democrat spoke with Head Coaches John Wilhelm of Liberty and Andrew Finochio of O’Neill on Wednesday regarding Saturday’s game:
What challenges does the other team pose for you on Saturday?
Wilhelm: “Obviously we’re taking on the defending champs and they’ve returned a lot of kids from that team.
“I mean they’ve got it all, They’re big, physical and fast.”
Finochio: “Liberty poses a number of problems for us. They do a lot of things offensively very well and then you’ve got [Ryan] Henry who is dangerous running and receiving, pretty much anywhere you put him.
“Quinn Jackson is a great runner and passer and then you have [Tony] Saravia, a tremendous lineman and defender and now they’re using the guy in the backfield. It’s going to be tough.”
What would you like to improve upon, if anything, from your game against them in week 3?
Wilhelm: “We definitely need to cut down on the penalties on our offense it seemed like every other play and I don’t see us winning this game with that many mistakes. We also need to improve up front. We’ve got to block much better up front.”
Finochio: “That week three win against Liberty holds no bearing to us in Saturday’s game. They are a different team right now, as far as I’m concerned. Even so, we got into the red zone about three times against them that day and failed to score and we also let their receivers get behind us a few times. Had Quinn [Jackson] not overthrown them, those would have been easy scores. We can’t make those same mistakes Saturday and come away with a win.”
Has tropical storm Sandy impacted your practice routine at all?
Wilhelm: “Well, we weren’t able to practice on Monday or Tuesday. We are practicing today [Wednesday] but with so many people without power in the region some kids aren’t able to be here today. We’ve got most of the kids here but we’re missing a few. It is what it is and we’re doing the best we can with it.”
Finochio: “Absolutely, I think this storm has affected everybody, we haven’t been able to practice all week until today [Wednesday] and since they [Liberty] do so many different things offensively, with a short week of practice, preparing has been a challenge for us. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
What are the keys to winning on Saturday?
Wilhelm: “One is protecting the football, which obviously we need to do. Secondly, we need to cause some turnovers any way possible, even with the onsides recover one of those and it’s a momentum shifter. Lastly, we cannot give up big plays, if we give up big plays to O’Neill, we’re in trouble.”
Finochio: “Phenomenal defense is key and it’s very important for us to get up early. We don’t want to play a close game with them because those are exactly the games a team like Liberty can win. We also need to stay in this game mentally. I tell the guys that we need to play a mentally crisp game of football. If we have too many penalties or blown assignments, it will definitely come back to haunt us.”
-- Eli Ruiz
CLASS D FINAL
Eldred (5-4) vs. Chester (6-3)
Saturday, 4 p.m.
Dietz Stadium, Kingston
Eldred will face Chester in the Class D section IX championship game. Chester defeated Eldred soundly in their first meeting a few weeks ago, 41-0. But talking to both coaches, that game is nothing but a distant memory. Eldred Coach Pat Kean thinks his team is more than capable of avenging that loss and Chester coach Ron Stover knows that both teams come into the game 0-0.
Do you feel that your team can play with Chester?
Kean: “I definitely think we can play with Chester. In our last game we had a few really good drives in the first half and I think if we were able to score on those drives it would’ve been a different game.”
Will you be guarding against overconfidence?
Stover: “We’ll definitely be guarding against overconfidence. Last Saturday, Cambridge, the No. 2 class D team in the state lost to Salem in a huge upset. We will be bringing that up before our game on Saturday to show our kids that the same could happen to us.”
What challenges does the other team pose?
Kean: “They have great team speed, good runningbacks and a huge line in front of those running backs. They’re also very well coached.”
Stover: “Eldred’s quarterback Anthony Margarum is an awesome player. He’s indestructable, so we’ll be planning our offensive and defensive strategies around him.”
What can your team do to improve from first meeting?
Kean: “We looked at the film and we drew up a few red zone plays to help us move the chains inside the 20-yard line.”
Stover: “Defensively we made mistakes in the first half. We had trouble getting lined up. We also dropped some passes but that’s to be expected in high school football. I think if we can correct those defensive mistakes we’ll be fine.”
How has a lack of practice due to the storm affected your team?
Kean: “It (the storm) hasn’t helped. We’ve only been able to practice two days this week for a few hours and we’ve been missing players. It’s been tough on us. Hopefully we can come together when it really counts.”
Stover: “I don’t think it’s an advantage or a disadvantage for anyone because everyone is in the same situation. We’ll find out how it’s affected them on Saturday, but I don’t think it will hurt us. It’s the 12th week of practice. The players know what they’re doing by now.”