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Liberty’s Walls crumble on Jefferson

September 22, 2012
By JOE CATULLO Jr. - Tribune Chronicle correspondent (sports@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

LIBERTY - After taking a three-possession lead within the first 2:23 Friday night against Jefferson, the Liberty Leopards knew they could not letup.

Against LaBrae last week, the Leopards scored 19 points in the first quarter and squeaked out a four-point victory. But Friday was a new game, and a new week.

Running back Sherron Walls kept running and taking time off of the clock, rushing 36 times for 209 yards and a touchdown as the Leopards won 47-32. Walls, however, was not done after the game concluded.

"I can go another two quarters," he said. "I'm very hungry; you've got to stay hungry. At the end of the game, I didn't want to come out. I wanted to stay hungry and get as many yards as I could to put the game away."

Walls scored the game's second touchdown at the 9:51 mark in the first quarter on a 19-yard scamper. John Helms returned a punt 74 yards beforehand.

Fourteen seconds later, Liberty's Danny Markulin intercepted Jefferson quarterback Tony Chiacchiero and ran 35 yards into the end zone, pushing the lead up to 22 points. Markulin finished with two interceptions.

Liberty coach Brian Jones said he stressed all week in practice about football's three phases - offense, defense and special teams.

"We stress it every day in practice that we need more than just offensive touchdowns," Jones said. "We stressed three phases of the football game, and when you get production out of all three of your units, it's huge and it paid off for us tonight."

The Leopards (4-1, 2-0 All-American Conference, National Division) eventually led 34-7 midway through the second quarter before the Falcons (3-2, 0-2 AAC National) began their comeback attempt.

Chiacchiero chucked a 56-yard touchdown to Jacob Hamilton that trimmed the lead to 20. After an onside kick recovery, Chiacchiero found Hamilton again in the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 15-yard line. Jefferson cut the deficit to 14 after a missed extra point into halftime.

"We talked about going into halftime that we were coming back, and I give (Liberty) credit," Jefferson coach Jim Henson said. "They came out and put a nice scoring drive together. They made it tough on us."

Walls carried the Leopards down the field in the third quarter, and quarterback Asim Pleas punched the tickets. He ran a 14-yard touchdown and then threw a 45-yard tipped touchdown to Helms, giving Liberty a 47-20 lead into the fourth quarter.

Pleas finished with 68 passing yards, 72 rushing and three total touchdowns. Jones said Pleas is growing up week by week.

"He's managing our offense, and that's what I wanted him to do today," Jones said. "I just wanted him to get out there and manage what we do. He's in the process now where he matures a little bit each week."

Chiacchiero threw two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but they were not enough. Chiacchiero finished with 223 passing yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.

"Tony I thought threw the ball pretty well," Henson said. "The one pick was straight my fault. I thought he showed good composure, kept the guys going, good leadership and trying to keep us coming back."

While Jones enjoyed his offenses' performance, he said the defense must improve after allowing 315 total yards and five touchdowns. Markulin, though, thought the defense played to its fullest.

"Our defense did overall good because usually when our offense doesn't do too well, our defense steps it up and then we get the stops.," Markulin said.

Liberty hits the road to face Campbell Memorial on Friday while Jefferson challenges Newton Falls at home.

sports@tribtoday.com