Eli Ruiz | Democrat
Patrick Fitzpatrick (11) picks up extra yardage after catching short pass as Liberty mounted a drive in fourth quarter.
Story by Eli Ruiz
LIBERTY October 15, 2013 Going into Saturday's big Class C Division II matchup against visiting Millbrook, Liberty knew the task at hand: stop the double-wing.
Five teams had tried this season. All five failed to stop the juggernaut Blazer offense, which has average more than 45 points per game led by senior tailback Henry Cardinal.
"It's Millbrook, it's the double-wing, we've got to stop it," offered Liberty coach John Wilhelm after his team's big division win against Sullivan West last week.
Last season the Blazers and Indians split two contests, but Liberty won the one that mattered most: a 35-18 Class C semifinal upset of Millbrook at Dietz Stadium.
So in this, their first matchup this season, revenge had to be a factor for Millbrook.
"Sure, of course you want to get back at them," said Millbrook coach Sean Keenan. "They really hurt us last season. We were rolling until we ran into them at Dietz."
But Saturday's game had playoff implications as well. The winner would clinch the Class C Division 2 title.
Unfortunately for the Indians, who played valiantly Saturday, they came out a little lethargic in the first half staking Millbrook to a 22-0 lead from which they could not recover. Though they outscored and outplayed the Blazers in the second half, they ended up on the losing end of a 30-14 game.
Millbrook, as has been their modus-operandi all season, got a quick jump on Liberty, scoring on the very first offensive play of the game. Just 12 seconds had elapsed when Cardinal, a big, strong runner with outside speed, broke loose on a 50-yard run. Cardinal who led all rushers with 245-yards on 19 carries punched in the two-point conversion to give his Blazers a the early 8-0 lead.
"We really had a slow start," said Wilhelm. "You just can't give up a play like that from the start like we did. That just sets you back right from the gate."
Liberty started its first drive in great position at midfield, but the Indian offense stalled out at the Millbrook 34.
It wouldn't take Cardinal long to strike again, as the third time Millbrook got the ball, he broke another big touchdown run, this one a 66-yarder, to put Millbrook in the driver's seat 14-0. Joe Daley walked in the two-point try making it 16-0.
"The line does an absolutely fantastic job for us," said Cardinal after the game. "They open the huge holes for us and we just run through them. That's our job and that's what we do."
The ensuing Indian drive presented Liberty with its best scoring opportunity of the first half reaching all the way to the Millbrook 5-yard-line. But four plays later that drive ended when a stingy Blazer defense stuffed the Indians on fourth and goal.
Millbrook's seemingly unstoppable double-wing opened one of those "huge holes" again on its next drive and freshman standout Delvin Wood broke off the third big gainer in four possessions, scooting 73 yards run down the right side to give the Blazers a comfortable 22-0 lead.
"We just over-pursued and gave them the cut-back alley,” said Wilhelm. “And they hit it. With this double-wing they use, everyone has to cover their assignment. If you don't cover your assignment you're going to give up the big plays, and unfortunately we did give up a couple of those.” Millbrook was looking to put up yet another score before the half, but a Jericho Male leaping interception his fourth of the season with under a minute left sent the teams into the lockerrooms with the Blazers up 22-0.
"We came out flat in the first half," said Wilhelm. "That's not how you win ballgames. And a team like this [Millbrook] is just going to jump on you for that."
Millbrook opened the second half with a risky onside kick and Liberty, seemingly with more pep in its step, started to play ball. The motivated offense behind the legs of Quinn Jackson and German Castano, marched down the field and put up its first score of the game on a short 2-yard Male plunge with 6:41 left in the third. Julian Spina's PAT made it a more palpable 22-7 score for the Indians, with lots of game still to play.
But the Indians couldn’t feed off the momentum. Even though the defense forced Millbrook to punt on two consecutive possessions, the offense sputtered. And that was really the key time span in the game. Had the Indians been able to score and draw within a touchdown, the whole feel of the game could have changed.
As it was, Millbrook struck the decisive blow early in the fourth quarter when Cardinal again burst outside for a 62-yard gain down to the Liberty 8. Wood quickly scored from there and with the two-point conversion, the Blazers held a comfortable 30-7 lead.