All 'pumped' up: Leopards prove forecasters wrong
Liberty won its second playoff game in dominating fashion.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
AUSTINTOWN -- Certainly, the Liberty High football team didn't need extra incentive against Ursuline.
There was already plenty to play for.
"Everybody predicted us to lose," said Liberty senior linebacker Keith Forestal in a jubilant celebration outside the Leopards' locker room Friday at Falcon Stadium.
"But our defense came to play today, and our offense got the job done," Forestal added. "We were blocking; we were hitting; we had all 11 men to the ball."
It added up to an impressive line of numbers in the Division IV regional semifinal: Liberty 6, Ursuline 0.
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"We had never won a playoff game" before this season, Forestal said. "Now we've won two and we've beaten Ursuline."
The Leopards did so in dominating fashion behind a dominating defense that controlled the line of scrimmage and slowed Ursuline senior running back Alex Allen.
"We were ready for their offense," Forestal said. "We knew how their offense moved. We knew how they liked to cut. We were in pursuit everywhere."
Allen, the first running back in Steel Valley Conference history to rush for 2,000 yards in the regular season, had 90 yards at halftime and appeared on his way to another big game.
But the Leopards had other plans.
"All week our defense was practicing not letting them cut back at all," Liberty junior fullback and linebacker Dania Gillam said. "We were getting it done tonight."
Liberty limited Allen to minus 4 yards after halftime as he finished with 86 yards on 21 carries for the game.
"Their linebackers were very active and they were doing a little bit of stunting, which we struggled to pick up," Ursuline coach Dan Reardon said. "But the bottom line was, their defensive line controlled the game. They played well, and we struggled blocking them all night."
Gillam was also getting it done offensively on a night when Liberty coach Jeff Whittaker hadn't planned on using his standout, recovering from a knee injury, much on that side of the ball.
But junior fullback Chris Harden went down with a knee injury in the first half, leaving it up to Gillam, limited in practice the past four weeks, to carry the load.
He finished with 107 yards on 24 carries to lead the Leopards, who still balanced their offense among a variety of backs.
"When he went down, I knew I was going to start getting the ball again," Gillam said. "I was just ready to go whenever they needed me."
The Leopards' victory advances them to next week's regional final against another SVC power.
"Now we've got Mooney," Forestal said. "We couldn't be any more pumped right now."