Story by Eli Ruiz
After three consecutive big (and much needed) wins against quality opponents Liberty was a prime candidate for a letdown against lowly Onteora Saturday afternoon in a game that would ultimately decide its playoff fate.
Onteora was in the spoiler role, as a victory combined with Burke Catholic’s big win over Dover Saturday would have eliminated Liberty from the Section IX playoffs.
Forget about it. Liberty continued its stellar play over the last five weeks thoroughly dominating Onteora 60-6 and clinching the No. 2 seed in Class C Division 1. The Indians will now play Division 2 champion Millbrook on Friday at Kingston’s Deitz Stadium at 4 p.m.
“Our talks all week in practice have been about not looking past any opponent,” said Liberty coach John Wilhelm before Saturday’s match-up. “I tried to make sure that their focus is on this game because you just never know, and especially how this season has played out in Class C and without Kenny [star running back Kenny Jaycox who was lost for the season after tearing his ACL and MCL in week five]. You just never know.”
After the first drive of the game, you kind of did know. Liberty opened with an eight- play drive that ate up half the first quarter, a drive that even featured star linebacker/offensive lineman Tony Saravia seeing some action in the Liberty backfield perhaps a new offensive twist Liberty will test in the playoffs.
Jaycox’s replacement Ryan Henry capped the drive with a three-yard touchdown up the middle. Liberty’s successful two-point conversion gave the Indians an 8-0 lead with 6:01 left in the opening quarter.
Onteora started their opening drive at midfield after Zac Vargas fell on the Liberty onsides kick. Onteora moved into Liberty territory to the 34, but Liberty’s tough defense stuffed Onteora on 4th and 6 and the Indians took over on downs. Four plays later Liberty QB Quinn Jackson pranced into the end zone untouched for a six-yard score. Jackson and Henry hooked up on another two- point conversion to make it 16-0.
Onteora answered quickly, taking advantage of some miscommunication on the Liberty sideline. With only 10 defenders on the field for Liberty, Onteora quarterback Tim Shultis hit Bernie Smith in stride down the right sideline for a 50-yard score. Unfortunately for Onteora these would be the only points they would put up all day. Liberty would go on to score on five of their next six possessions to turn the game into a laugher.
“These kids have just really rallied around each other since we lost the game to O’Neill,” said Wilhelm, referencing Liberty’s 21-0 defeat to the Class C, Division 1 champions on September 14. “They’ve just stepped up their game.”
Stepped up their game indeed, as the Indians have scored 211 points in their last 4 games, while yielding only 39 points on defense. When confronted with this statistic, Wilhelm would say in his usual deadpan, “That’s 39 too many.”
Even Liberty’s second team which was put in early in the second half would prove unstoppable for Onteora, as freshman running back Kevin Morgans ran through and around a hapless Onteora defense.
Ryan Henry led all rushers with 97 yards along with two touchdowns. Henry also returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Quarterback Quinn Jackson ran for 88 yards and a score.
As for Millbrook, Wilhelm knows what awaits.
“They’re a really tough team, said Wilhelm of Millbrook, it’s not going to be easy and they run that double wing offense where the offensive line is very closely spaced on every play. They’ve got a very strong rushing attack.”
Liberty quarterback Quinn Jackson echoed his coach’s sentiments: “Millbrook’s gonna be very tough. They’ve pretty much run all over everyone they’ve faced this season.
“I think we’re going to have to play an even better game than we did today to beat them. We’re going to have to play close to perfect.”
Friday’s winner will play the winner of the Sullivan-West/O’Neill game which takes place on Friday at Faller Field in Middletown.