By Stephen Boyle - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- It wasn't supposed to be different this time.
Sherando football had beaten Liberty nine times in a row heading into Friday night's Group AA, Region II first-round playoff game, but this time the Eagles came out on top. Liberty ended the Warriors' season with a 27-10 victory.
"We were ready, but they just made big plays that we didn't respond to well," said Sherando senior Chris Smith after the game.
Liberty (7-4) jumped out to a 6-0 lead near the end of the first quarter when quarterback Tyler Longerbeam threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Rodman Munson, but the Warriors responded with two scoring drives in the second quarter. First, Tylar Clowser made a 25-yard field goal to put the Warriors within three points.
A Wyatt Teller fumble set up Sherando (6-5) at the Liberty 45-yard line on their very next possession. Sherando coach Bill Hall's squad drove the ball the rest of the way down the field in seven plays, and George Aston finished the drive off with a 7-yard touchdown run to give his team a 10-6 lead. Aston had 86 rushing yards on 18 carries.
He and fellow senior Taylor Loudan led the Warriors' offensive attack. Loudan had 27 carries for 145 yards, and also recorded 114 passing yards.
"We're proud of these guys and they're a great group to work with," Hall said of his seniors after the game. "They represent everything that's good about Sherando."
However, the Warriors were unable to hang on to the lead. A 27-yard pass from Longerbeam to Ian Vowels gave Liberty a 14-10 lead with 2:10 remaining in the first half. Longerbeam completed 5 of 8 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
After his second scoring throw, Sherando got the ball with time winding down in the first half. The Warriors picked up one first down with less than one minute remaining in the second quarter, but then Liberty forced a punt. Junior Garrett Utterback got around the edge and blocked the Warriors' punt and recovered the live ball. Utterback tried to scoop the live ball up and run for the end zone, but after failing to pick up the ball on the run he just fell on it.
"I was happy we got our offense back on the field," Utterback said. "But I should've scored."
The turnover did result in a Liberty field goal, giving the Eagles a 17-10 halftime lead.
"The three points isn't as big as the momentum was," Liberty coach Sean Finnerty said of the blocked punt.
The momentum seemed to carry over into the second half. Liberty shut out the Warriors in the final two quarters -- although Clowser did miss a 25-yard field goal -- and added two additional scores to make the final 27-10. Running back Aristotle Howard found the end zone on a 5-yard run and Ryan Morris converted on a 31-yard field goal attempt.
Although the playoff game was Liberty's first win against Sherando in its last 10 attempts, Finnerty said his teams have always felt like they are capable of beating the Warriors. On Friday, his Eagles finally proved him right.
"It's shocking," said Utterback of the win. "We got redemption and it just feels good."