Eli Ruiz | Democrat
Liberty wide receiver Patrick Fitzpatrick races into the end zone on an end-around play for an apparent touchdown during Friday's Section IX Class C semifinal game against Burke. The score was called back because of a holding penalty.
Story by Eli Ruiz
KINGSTON November 5, 2013 Liberty had been here before.
Last season the Indians played underdog to a streaking Millbrook squad in the same Section IX Class C semifinal game.
Liberty stunned the Blazers with a blowout 38-15 win to advance to the Class C final.
This season it was top-seeded and state-ranked Burke that stood between Liberty and another meeting with Class C rival James I. O'Neill.
Having lost to the Eagles 46-12 just the week prior in the regular-season finale in which Burke starting quarterback Justin Fenical did not even play, the Indians understandably were a big underdog again Friday afternoon at Dietz Stadium.
Liberty coach John Wilhelm was looking for his team to react similarly to last season. "Last week's game has been played," said Wilhelm. "It doesn't matter this week. I'm looking for my guys to hold to their assignments and play some tough football out there today. We've got to keep it close."
Though his team did "keep it close," the end result was the same as last week's, as Burke (8-1) advanced into the next round of sectional play by virtue of a hard-fought 24-19 win. Fenical, still nursing an injured ankle, threw two touchdowns and ran in another as his Eagles will play in the championship game against O'Neill, who beat previously unbeaten Millbrook 22-16.
"I was out last week and I never like that," said Fenical. "This week I just rehabbed the ankle like crazy and did everything I could to get back and help my team. I knew this was going to be a big game."
Burke was up 12-6 and driving deep in Liberty territory in the third quarter, but a costly Fenical fumble on a quarterback keeper was recovered by the Indians at their 14. Liberty's outstanding senior quarterback Quinn Jackson connected with Jericho Male in the end zone, to tie the contest at 12 all. Julian Spina's PAT attempt was blocked.
Fenical answered right back on Burke's next drive with a fourth-and-seven laser to tight end Tom Connolly in the Liberty end zone. Burke's two point-conversion attempt failed making it an 18-12 game.
Then, in probably the game’s biggest play, Burke's Mike Martinelli ripped the ensuing Eagle kickoff from the hands of Male at the 20-yard-line and took it the rest of the way for a huge Burke touchdown - a score that would prove to be the difference in the game.
"That was probably the play of the game right there," offered Fenical.
Jackson wasn't ready to see his brilliant career end just yet. On the ensuing drive, he fought off tacklers and grinded out yardage. Then, as he's done countless times over the last couple of years, Jackson broke free for a 38-yard touchdown run down the right sideline to bring his Indians to within five.
Unfortunately, Liberty could not threaten again, though they had a couple of opportunities.
"It's tough right now," said Jackson after the game. "I've been doing this for a while at Liberty and it's hard to believe I won't be suiting up here again. I really wanted this win today. It's unfortunate. I think we could have taken this one."
"I told my guys, 'these guys are gonna come out and play ball,'" said Burke coach Ed VanCuren Jr. "One of the toughest things to do is to beat an opponent back-to-back. They've kinda got an idea now of your Jimmies and Joes. They've kinda got an idea of how you match up and they can adjust their defense and their offense accordingly and they really did.
“Hats off to Liberty and their coaching staff. They really did a fantastic job of bringing their guys out ready to play this week. I think we came out prepared too. We just broke down film all week as if we didn't play them. We didn't even treat it like we saw them last week."
Regarding the big strip on the kickoff, VanCuren offered, "Special teams were big today. That was a huge play there. Sometimes when the offense maybe isn't clicking on all four cylinders you gotta ask your defense to kind of put their backs against the wall, and you've got to ask your special teams to step it up and make big plays. I think we did that today"
With the loss, Liberty ended its season 4-5.