By Greg Brill
FRONT ROYAL -- The Liberty football team is talented enough to make its own luck.
Set up the Eagles with favorable position by turning the ball over in your own field of play? That's downright costly.
Liberty had a two-touchdown advantage less than eight minutes into Friday night's non-district game -- both scores set up by Skyline turnovers -- and the Eagles scored on five of six offensive series in the first half to go on to a 43-7 win at the Hawks Den.
"They're definitely a talented football team that can run it and throw it," Skyline coach Heath Gilbert said. "You've got your hands full playing them."
By halftime, Liberty (5-0) had a 36-0 lead -- outgaining Skyline 241-82 -- and could already start planning for next week's Evergreen opener at home with Warren County.
"I'm excited about what our kids are doing right now," Liberty coach Tommy Buzzo said. "The first two quarters I felt like we played pretty daggone good."
To get to such a wide margin at the end of two quarters, the Eagles took advantage of what was given to them.
The Eagles could usually expect a short field to begin with. The Hawks (2-3) suffered with field position throughout the first half, with an average start from their 15-yard-line for six possessions (with the exception of a one-play drive that started from their 38 in the final seconds of the half).
Skyline quarterback Derek Helsley also had another tough night, completing only three passes for 27 yards. Helsley tried to throw deep into double-coverage on the game's first series and was picked off by Bobby Chiccehitto at the Skyline 49.
Liberty proceeded to put a 10-play drive together for the game's first touchdown. Anthony Budd scored the first of his three short touchdown bursts by going in from the 2.
When Skyline got the ball back, it had to start from its 7. On the third play, Helsley scrambled out of the pocket and was stripped from behind by Wyatt Teller, who also recovered the fumble at the Skyline 5.
The Hawks almost had a turnover when three defenders could not come up with a pass thrown into the end zone, and the Eagles made them pay when Budd scored from the 1 two plays later for a 14-0 lead.
Going to the Wildhawk formation for its third series, Skyline finally moved the ball well until a fourth-down pass at the Liberty 36 was broken up.
Liberty then marched 64 yards to move ahead 21-0 on Budd's 1-yard run.
For the rest of the half, Liberty senior quarterback Erik Whitmer burned the Hawks with his arm.
A first-season starter, Whitmer hit Basil Rynestad in stride for a 62-yard touchdown toss down the far sideline with 3:30 left. Then after Liberty picked up a safety in the final minute when a punt snap sailed over Aaron Jeremiah's head and out of the back of the end zone, Whitmer went to work again. After failing to get completions to Corey Warren on two straight deep throws, Whitmer tried a third time and Warren caught a 35-yard scoring pass to beat two defenders with 12 seconds left in the half.
"He did play well," Buzzo said of Whitmer. "He had two balls dropped. He had some completions in the first half, then we really weren't in position to throw [because of the large lead] in the third and fourth quarters."
Whitmer threw for 183 yards on just seven completions to help keep Liberty's offense balanced, with Rynestad making five catches for 114 yards.
"They've been throwing the football pretty well this season," Gilbert said. "We needed to do a good job on the [pass] routes and they really didn't show us anything [different]. They run the routes harder than anyone we've faced."
The Hawks finally got on the board in the fourth quarter against Liberty's reserves. Chris Grady capped a 64-yard drive by going in from the 10 with 4:23 left to play.
Now after two lopsided losses in a row, the Hawks must prepare for their Northwestern District opener next Friday on Homecoming with Millbrook.
"We are what we are," Gilbert said. "We're a 2-3 football team and we're reeling. It's our job as a coaching staff and the leaders on the team to put the brakes down and start going in the right direction."
On the bright side, Skyline two-way lineman Luke Pingley returned to the lineup Friday and played well on the defensive side, recording two sacks for losses of 17 yards.