Story by Eli Ruiz
LIBERTY The game had far less meaning than last season’s, but the end result was the same as Sullivan-West toppled Liberty in a non-league game 28-14 on Saturday.
The game was suspended and eventually called shortly into the fourth quarter due to a tornado warning and heavy storms in the area. The teams(and many fans) had waited nearly 90 minutes to hopefully resume play, but at that point, both coaches and the officiating crew felt the saftey of the players would be at risk after such a long span of inactivity.
Rule 3, Section 1 of Articles three and four of the National Federation of High-Schools Association allows for referees and coaches to terminate a game due to player safety.
Liberty coach John Wilhelm subsequently acknowledged to The Democrat that he agreed to the cancellation because it was a non-league game that had no bearing on the standings or post-season play. Had it been a league game, Wilhelm said they would have finished the game at a later date.
As for the action that did take place, Sullivan West quarterback Sawyer Erlwein punished Liberty with his tough running and two touchdown passes, while his Indians counterpart, Quinn Jackson, struggled with turnovers, bad snaps and pressure from the Sullivan-West defense for most of the contest.
Sullivan West got of to a fast start as Liberty opened the game with a failed onside kick, setting the Bulldogs up in Liberty territory at the 49. They converted a few plays later as Erlwein hit Brad Hemmer on a 9-yard touchdown pass.
Liberty answered immediately with a stunning 92-yard touchdown run by quarterback Quinn Jackson down the left sideline.
After a fumble recovery on the ensuing Sullivan West drive set Liberty up in good field position, Bulldog linebacker Devin Mirch interception and return to the Indian 10 yard-line set up another Bulldog score by sophomore Brian Stauch on the very next play. The extra point gave Sullivan-West a 14-7 edge with 5:23 left in the first quarter.
A high snap on a Liberty punt attempt on fourth and long from their own 15 yard-line rolled out of the end zone resulting in a safety and two points for Sullivan West, expanding the lead to 16-7 lead with 20 seconds left in the opening quarter.
On fourth down and about 12 late in the second quarter Sullivan West hit paydirt yet again on a big 30-yard screen pass from Erlwein to Stauch. A missed extra point attempt gave Sullivan West a 22-7 lead with 1:17 remaining in the first half.
Kenny Jaycox returned the ensuing kickoff to the 44, and after two consecutive big passes from Jackson to Tom Barkley, Liberty was at the Sullivan West 19. With nine seconds left in the half another bad snap, coupled with pressure from the Bulldog D left Liberty pinned back at the 38. With one second left a screen pass to Ryan Henry netted 24 yards but fell well short of the end zone before the half-time whistle.
“It [the game] was a nightmare right from the beginning,” said Wilhelm. “I don’t know, we just really didn’t execute right and obviously we can’t turn the ball over more than six times and expect to win. We were lucky we weren’t down by five touchdowns.”
Despite Sullivan West’s first-half dominance, Liberty made a game out of it in the third quarter and appeared ready to swing the momentum until a another huge mistake derailed the Indians for good.
Jaycox opened the second half with a kickoff return to the Sullivan West 41 yard-line. A few players later, Jaycox showed why he is one of the most dynamic backs in the area with an explosive 35-yard touchdown run. The extra point attempt would split the uprights and bring Liberty to within eight just moments into the thrid quarter.
Liberty would follow with another on-side kick this time successful setting them up at the Sullivan West 30-yard line. Jaycox busted loose on a 22-yard run to the Bulldog eight. Then came the big turning of the game. Jackson called his own number and swept outside, outrunning Sullivan West defenders to the end zone for an apparent touchdown. But a holding holding call against the Indians would negate the score. On the very next play, Jackson was picked off by cornerback Jared Meola, who would return the ball to the Liberty 42.
A couple of plays later, Erlwein would plunge in for a touchdown on a two-yard keeper, delivering a knockout blow. The game would be stopped a few minutes later.
“That was a big turning point,” said Wilhelm of the negated Jackson touchdown. “We had just come out and scored on the opening drive, get the ball back on the onside kick, drive down again and seemed to have changed the momentum of the game, which we had none until then.”
Erlwein paced all rushers and defenders with 14 carries for 94 yards as well as 12 tackles and two sacks.
Kenny Jaycox rushed the ball 12 times for 70 yards and a touchdown for Liberty.
Quinn Jackson gained 44 yards on eight attempts and a score while netting 72 yards on 5 of 11 passing with four interceptions. Libery’s Tony Saravia had 10 tackles, 1 sack, a forced fumble and a partially blocked punt. Ehat Shehi also had 10 tackles for the Indians.
Sullivan West hosts the Yellowjackets of Eldred in a non-league game on Friday while Liberty travels to James I. O’Neill.