By Joe Scalzo
All the talk around Liberty this season was how far the Leopards have come.
On Friday, they found out how far they still need to go.
The Liberty High football team’s first trip to the playoffs since 2008 ended with a 54-7 loss to the defending Division IV state champions, Creston Norwayne, in a regional semifinal Friday at Blue Streak Stadium.
“They’re a good team and they made some good plays on defense, but once we get rolling, we tend to keep piling on pretty good,” said Norwayne coach Joe Harbour. “That’s kind of our M.O.”
Liberty held the Bobcats to one touchdown in the first quarter before Norwayne exploded for 35 points in the second quarter to end the suspense.
“We felt we had a good game plan but we kind of got behind early and it kind of steamrolled from there,” said Liberty coach Brian Jones. “We knew if we didn’t do the right things, that could happen.
“Our kids accepted it as well as they could. When we came to the locker room [at halftime] no one had their head down. They wanted to come out and knew we had two quarters left. There’s a lot of seniors on this team and they wanted to finish it out the right way, so I give them credit for that.”
Junior quarterback Asim Pleas threw for 131 yards for Liberty. Senior running back Sherron Walls rushed 22 times for 90 yards and scored his 25th touchdown of the season. He ran for close to 1,900 yards this fall.
“I think he’s [Walls] one of those guys that you wish you could have 11 guys on your team like him every year,” said Jones, who took over for Jeff Whittaker in the offseason. “I think he had a stellar career and he’s one of the best to run the ball for us in a while.
“He’s gonna have a future ahead of him whatever he decides to do and we’re going to miss giving him the ball.”
Junior quarterback Joe Dreher completed 22 of 28 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns for the Bobcats (12-0), who will meet Brookfield on Nov. 16 in a rematch of last year’s regional quarterfinal. Norwayne won that game, 42-7.
“We knew last year when we played them they were a really good young team,” Harbour said of Brookfield. “I thought we might see them again next year, so I guess that came to fruition.
“It should be a pretty big clash. They’ve got a lot of skill. From the little bit I know about them, I think they’re pretty similar to us. So it’ll be a battle of similar teams. It might be fun for the audience, but it’s going to be tough for us.”
Liberty entered this season on an 18-game losing streak before emerging as the Mahoning Valley’s biggest surprise. The Leopards won the All-American Conference National Division and won their first playoff game since 2005 last week.
“I think it’s a new era at Liberty,” Jones said. “We showed what we’re capable of doing. I think the best thing is the kids were able to experience the playoffs.
“We’re upset about tonight — the kids worked their tails off all season long — but this was a successful season for us.”