Story by Eli Ruiz
LIBERTY Could you blame Burke Catholic for a little overconfidence Saturday afternoon? After all, they’d just come off a huge upset win over the cream of the Class C Division I crop in James I. O’Neill the weekend before. And they had to believe the season-ending injury to Liberty’s star running back Kenny Jaycox would limit the Indians’ offense.
An easy win against Liberty would improve Burke’s league record to 2-0 and all but guarantee them an inside track to the Section IX playoffs.
Nonetheless, the Indians did not get the memo that Burke had all the momentum heading into Saturday’s game. In a second consecutive week of offensive and defensive dominance, Liberty ran roughshod over the seemingly overmatched Eagles, racking up a mind-boggling 513 total rushing yards en route to the critical 53-19 victory.
Asked if he expected his team to dominate, Liberty coach John Wilhelm said, “No. I thought we would be ok, but I really didn’t expect to dominate this way.”
With the victory and coupled with Dover’s loss to O’Neill, the two available playoff spots in Class C Division 1 are completely up in the air. O’Neill still has the inside track with its completed 3-1 division record. But it’s possible that three teams can ultimately finish 3-1, invoking a tie-breaker system based on point differential.
For Liberty (4-2, 1-1) and Dover, this Saturday’s game between the two will eliminate the loser, magnifying the importance of the 1:30 p.m. contest at Dover.
“It's a big game but we think of every game as a must win,” said Jackson. “We don't like to lose.”
As for the game against Burke (2-4, 1-1), Liberty overcame the loss of Jaycox by switching wide receiver Ryan Henry to running back and letting him overpower the Burke defense with his size and strength. Time after time Henry found big yardage up the middle, running through gaping holes. Quarterback Quinn Jackson found the same opportunities up the gut and the two combined for more than 400 rushing yards.
On its second drive of the game, Henry capped a nine-play romp with a 14-yard touchdown blast up the middle.
“Coach asked me to switch to running back,” said Henry. “We didn't know how it was gonna work out, but I think it turned out okay.”
Burke cut the deficit to one point late in the first when it converted a botched snap by Liberty into a 27-yard touchdown pass from Robert Pezzullo to Chris Skermo.
What now seemed like a competitive game quickly turned into a tidal wave of Liberty scoring.
Jacckon, who finished the game with 21 carries for 247 yards, broke free for two second quarter touchdown runs of 10 and 72 yards to give the Indians a 19-6 lead at the half.
"My line gave me big holes to run through all day,” said Jackson. “I have to give them all the credit, they work hard in practice and they come out here to play."
After a 20-minute delay to repair a portentous sinkhole on the Burke side of the field, Liberty scored on its two first two possesions of the third quarter, the second coming after defensive lineman Tony Saravia caused and recovered a Burke fumble at the Eagles’ 47-yard line. On the next play, Henry took the handoff, and after carrying several defenders for the first 15 yards, broke free for the touchdown, giving Liberty a comfortable 32-6 lead with 7:27 left in the third quarter.
Saravia had another superb game for Liberty with seven tackles, a forced fumble and recovery, a blocked field goal, and an interception.
Asked what he told his team in the locker room at the half, Wilhelm said, “I told them that we did really well running the ball in the first half and that we needed to come out and keep doing the same.
“ I told my [offensive] line to keep doing exactly what they were doing.”
About Henry’s big day Wilhelm said of his stepson, “You know, Kenny Jaycox got hurt and Ryan just really answered the call, he really stepped up and he more than picked up the slack for us.
Though it was big win for Liberty and kept them alive, Wilhelm tried to keep it all in perspective.
“We’re facing another must win next week. There’s not much time to celebrate this one.”