POWELL — After digging themselves into a steep hole, Liberty’s furious fourth-quarter comeback was turned away in the final minute as Cleveland Glenville pulled out the 20-14 win on Friday night.
Quarterback Andrew Leonard completed 26 of his 42 attempts for 201 yards for the Patriots, but three interceptions proved to be costly for an offense that never found its footing.
Glenville running back D’Shawntae Jones ran for 230 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries to lead the Tarblooders as part of a 448-yard offensive performance. Quarterback Deonte Rucker added 196 yards passing and two touchdowns.
Glenville quickly went three-and-out on the opening possession of the game, and following the punt, the Liberty offense trotted onto the field for its first possession.
After picking up a first down to move the ball out past Liberty’s 20, early disaster struck for the Patriots offense when Leonard fumbled the ball on a botched exchange with the running back. Glenville’s Jermaine Agee scooped up the fumble and raced 30 yards to the end zone for an early 7-0 lead just two minutes into the game.
Following a three-and-out on Liberty’s second drive, the Glenville offense added to the lead on the backs of its impressive running back duo.
Jones carried four consecutive times to begin the drive, covering 33 yards and moving the ball into Liberty territory. J’Vaughn Goodson checked into the game to spell Jones and quickly picked up another 11 yards to set Glenville up with another first down at the Liberty 33-yard line.
A run for no gain and an incomplete pass had Glenville facing a third and 10, but a perfectly-timed and executed screen to Goodson caught the Liberty defense off guard as Goodson breezed into the end zone from 33 yards out for a 14-0 lead.
The game began to spiral for Liberty on the ensuing drive as Leonard was picked off by Glenville’s Bryce West, turning the ball back over to the Tarblooders near midfield with 2:55 remaining in the first.
Glenville (2-0) was on the verge of squandering the turnover, but Rucker connected with Damarion Witten on a fourth down to extend the drive deep in Liberty territory. A series of penalties had Glenville retreating all the way back to the Liberty 39, and facing a fourth down with 20 yards to pick up, the drive was all but dead again until Rucker again found Witten for, perhaps, the play of the game.
Rucker took the snap and avoided pressure before rolling to his right and tossing the ball to a well-covered Witten in the end zone for the touchdown, delivering a crushing blow to the Liberty sideline. Goodson’s extra point was unsuccessful, but the damage had already been done as Glenville opened up a commanding 20-point lead over Glenville.
In desperate need of a spark, Liberty put together its best possession of the half on the ensuing drive after beginning with great field position at the Glenville 45. Struck took the handoff on the first play of the drive and picked up 36 yards before he was finally run down at the Glenville 9.
Liberty got as close as the 5-yard line, but Arvell Reese’s sack of Leonard on third down forced a field goal attempt by kicker Maxwell Tinsley. The kick was blocked by Glenville, however, and Liberty came up empty on the scoring opportunity.
Glenville threatened to add to the lead with just seconds remaining until halftime when Rucker found Milique Herrin for a 48-yard catch and run to the Liberty 2-yard line. With just five seconds left in the half, Glenville elected to pass up the field goal attempt and was turned away by the Liberty defense when Rucker’s pass was broken up in the end zone.
Liberty received the ball to begin the second half and immediately showed life after accumulating just 78 yards in the opening two quarters. Leonard found Alex Okuley for 18 yards on the first play, and three plays later, Leonard scrambled for 12 yards and a critical third-down conversion as the Patriots entered Glenville territory.
Facing a fourth down from the 36-yard line, Liberty’s offense remained on the field and finally found the end zone. Leonard found Wilson Roberts for 10 yards, and Roberts turned up field and outran the Glenville defense 25 yards to the end zone to cut the deficit to 20-7.
Looking to build on their newfound momentum, Liberty head coach Steve Hale called for the onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. The kick was executed to perfection, and Kaleb Shumate pounced on the loose ball to give possession right back to Liberty.
As was the case so often on the night, however, Liberty was unable to stay out of its own way. Despite taking over at midfield, Liberty managed just one first down on the drive after another botched exchange in the backfield put the Patriots behind the chains.
The Liberty defense continued to keep their team in the game as the clock ticked well into the fourth quarter, never allowing Glenville to deliver the final blow, and the offense finally rewarded their effort with some late-game theatrics.
After catching a pass from Leonard at the Glenville 20-yard line, Okuley lateraled the ball to fellow receiver Evan Nelson, who raced to the end zone unopposed for the touchdown. Tinsley’s extra point cut the Glenville lead to 20-14 with just over two minutes remaining, keeping the door open for Liberty and reigniting the home crowd in the process.
The door opened up even further on the ensuing kickoff when Nelson ran down another perfectly-executed onside kick, giving the ball right back to the Liberty offense.
Liberty quickly moved the ball to the Glenville 31, and a defensive pass interference call in the end zone had Liberty set up with a first down at the 11-yard line as the Patriots drew closer to a comeback for the ages.
With still a minute to play and two timeouts in hand, one last mistake ultimately ended Liberty’s comeback bid. Leonard’s pass was picked off in the back of the end zone by Glenville’s Gerald Goodwin, sending the Tarblooders’ sideline into a frenzy as the offense headed back onto the field to run out the clock.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.