CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Playing with a sense of purpose and plenty of desperation, Class AA No. 15 Liberty wrapped up a playoff spot Friday at home.
The Mountaineers scored two touchdowns in the first 3:44 of action, then got three second-half interceptions from Tanner Moore to help preserve an all-important 21-8 victory over No. 8 North Marion.
“That’s a huge win. I tell our team all the time, ‘desperate people are dangerous.’ I thought we played desperate tonight and played with a sense of urgency,” Liberty head coach A.J. Harman said. “We played to win. We didn’t hold anything back. I thought we attacked with our game plan and the kids executed it great.”
A 56-yard run from Seth McIntyre on the second play from scrimmage helped Liberty (8-2) take the early lead. McIntyre’s big gain put the Mountaineers at the North Marion 6-yard line, and helped to set up Noah Leggett’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Kyle on fourth-and-goal.
Mason Conrad knocked home the first of his three point-after kicks to give LHS a 7-0 advantage at the 8:32 mark of the first quarter.
The Mountaineers then displayed their desperation by attempting an onside kick, and it paid off as they recovered at the Huskies’ 46.
With all the momentum on its side, Liberty immediately went back to the air and Leggett found a streaking Dwayne Buckhannon for a 46-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead at the 8:16 mark.
“We had to challenge our team and they had to challenge each other as well,” Harman said. “They held each other accountable at practice this week. We wanted to get this last one at home for our seniors and the kids answered the bell.”
Oddly enough, the Mountaineers had their second successful onside kick after taking the 14-point lead. Although McIntyre recovered it to give Liberty possession at the North Marion 44-yard line, the Mountaineers couldn’t add to their lead when Conrad missed a 22-yard field goal late in the opening quarter.
“Before we went out for the (first) kick return, we said, ‘keep your heads up and make sure the ball is kicked over your head before you retreat.’ But at the end of the day, it’s all about preparation and I didn’t do a very good job of getting them ready on kickoff return,” Huskies’ head coach Daran Hays said. “They were able to get two of them, which really sparked them.”
The Huskies (7-3) finally ran their first offensive play with 51 seconds left in the frame, but after picking up two first downs, quarterback Gunner Murphy was brought down by McIntyre for a 3-yard loss on fourth-and-1.
Both teams turned it over on downs on their next series, and the Mountaineers settled for a 14-0 halftime lead.
North Marion put together its only scoring drive of the night to start the second half. The Huskies covered 64 yards in four plays and Murphy found Tariq Miller, who made a great individual effort to haul in a 35-yard touchdown pass. Murphy then connected with Tyler Thorne on the 2-point pass to bring the Huskies to within 14-8 at the 10:08 mark of the third.
An interception by Ethan Raines helped prevent the Mountaineers from adding to their lead just past the midway point of the third, and Ricky Newbrough recovered a Leggett fumble on Liberty’s next series to give the Huskies the ball at the LHS 37 with 1:34 to play in the quarter.
North Marion’s chance to go ahead was quickly erased, however, when Murphy was intercepted by Moore just 12 seconds later.
“We weren’t very smart with the football as far as putting it where it needed to be and being a point guard out there,” Hays said. “We have to do a better job of taking what they give us. We were way too stuck on trying to get Tariq a home run and throwing into coverages. That’s not typical of us.”
The Mountaineers then put together a 15 play, 64-yard drive that used 7:52 of the remaining 13:22 to regain their two-score lead. The drive featured a 4-yard McIntyre run on fourth-and-3 and Leggett’s 20-yard screen pass to Sayveon Beafore on third-and-10, before Beafore punched in the end zone on a 1-yard run with 5:30 remaining.
“It just kind of reestablished that we were coming to play tonight. Our offensive line did a great job moving people and our backs did a great job of blocking for each other,” Harman said.
Moore came up with his second interception with 4:53 remaining and added another pick on the final play of the game.
“The key to our defense every night is to be physical,” Harman said.
Playoff projections have Liberty as a No. 12 seed with the Mountaineers set to make a trip to No. 5 Keyser.
North Marion, meanwhile, is projected to fall to No. 14 and play at unbeaten and No. 3 Poca.