By Marty gitlin
It’s called the second level. And when a running back reaches it, he either gets clobbered or he sees wide-open spaces.
Liberty’s Sherron Walls got into the second level repeatedly Friday night against Streetsboro. And his eyes got big because he saw nothing but wet, green grass in front of him. The result was a career-high 321 rushing yards and six touchdowns in a 48-35 victory that sent the Leopards into the second round of the Division IV playoffs.
In the process, Walls won a personal duel against Rockets explosive counterpart Dorian Williams, who recorded his seventh 200-plus yard game of the season with 237 and added four scores.
The Liberty offensive line simply outblocked Streetsboro at the point of attack on this cold, rainy, wild night of football. The game was far more lopsided than the final score indicated — the Rockets tallied two touchdowns in the last four minutes in a frantic, but doomed rally.
The Leopards (9-2) assumed control after Williams, who also found plenty of running room beyond the line of scrimmage, outraced three defenders in a 75-yard romp into the end zone to give Streetsboro (7-4) its only lead of the game at 13-12 midway through the second quarter. Just 43 seconds later, after a long kickoff return, Walls scored from eight yards out to give his team the lead for good. A blocked punt by teammate D.J. Hight on the next possession led to another Walls touchdown.
The avalanche had begun. Walls tallied his third touchdown in less than 5 minutes on the final play of the half to stretch the lead to 34-13. And he knew who to thank for it.
“There was a lot of great blocking for me,” he said. “We watched a lot of film. We looked at the defensive assignments they were doing. We just came out and executed and opened up a lot of great holes.”
The Rockets didn’t close those holes until it was far too late in the fourth quarter, mostly against the Leopards’ second unit. Liberty played its finest defense of the night in the third quarter, forcing one punt and one turnover sandwiched around a 76-yard scoring jaunt by (who else?) Walls that made it 41-13.
Game, set, match.
Liberty coach Brian Jones offered his analysis of his team’s dominance in the trenches.
“They were using a base 53 defense with five down linemen and three linebackers,” he said. “That’s a lot of guys in the box. He knew we had to sustain blocks the entire time and get a hat on a hat. We did an excellent job of that.”
The Leopards threw a curve at the Rockets on the first play from scrimmage when quarterback Asim Pleas tossed a play-action pass to John Helms, who finished with a game-high 68 yards receiving. The 32-yard catch seemed to catch the Rockets off-guard — and they remained off-guard the rest of the game.
“It was a gameplan thing,” Jones said. “We knew they would most likely be playing man coverage and we felt it was a good play to start out with. It was a predetermined play. I don’t know if it opened things up because they were still playing a lot of guys in the box, but it gave us the availability to pass the ball if we needed to.”
Streetsboro cut it to 41-19 on a 5-yard touchdown run by Williams, then stopped Liberty on the next possession. But a roughing the punter call gave the ball back to the Leopards and clinched defeat.
Soon Walls was icing the cake with a 72-yard sprint.
As usual, he saw nothing but green grass once he got past the line of scrimmage. It was the theme of the night.