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Liberty upsets Niles

September 7, 2013
By MATTHEW PEASLEE - Tribune Chronicle (mpeaslee@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

LIBERTY - It didn't take long for Liberty football coach Kevin Cylar to feel confident again after a Week 1 loss at Salem.

At 6:45 a.m., last Saturday morning, senior captains DaQuan Carter, Christian Ingram, Abdel Yusuf, Danny Markulin, Asim Pleas and many other players attended a men's health screening before watching hours of film and practicing.

"When I saw those guys there so early," Cylar said, "immediately, I knew that I had a winning team."

Article Photos

Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Liberty’s Lynn Bowden (6) catches a touchdown reception over Niles’ Chris Parry during their game on Friday night.?Liberty won, 42-33.

Less than a week later - they proved it. Everybody in Trumbull County doubted the Leopards going into Friday's game with Niles. Everybody but themselves.

Liberty racked up 381 yards of total offense and had a stout second half defensive performance to shock the visiting Red Dragons, 42-33. It was Cylar's first win as a head coach.

"They don't do that to assistants," he said after being doused with a bucket of water in the locker room. "It feels great."

Liberty lost to Salem, 27-25, last week.

"We needed this game for the rest of our season," said Pleas, the Leopards' quarterback. "We had to work hard. Nobody else believed in us but our coaches knew that we can do anything if we all play together so we just kept believing."

After a three-play drive that took just 47 seconds, it looked like Niles (1-1) would run (throw, rather) away with it, just like in Week 1 as Kyle Paden torched Girard for 358 yards in a 38-19 romp. He hit Marcus Hill for a 19-yard touchdown to open the scoring. Hill scored again on an 85-yard kick return after Liberty scored on a 14-play drive ending with a 26-yard pass from Pleas to Lynn Bowden.

A Paden to James Tate touchdown pass ended the first quarter with the Dragons leading, 20-6. Paden threw for 131 yards completing 5 of 6 passes in the first half. But the game plan changed in the second half.

"We just wanted to slow it down a little bit with the run," said Niles coach Brian Shaner. "We wanted to keep our offense on the field a little bit more."

Niles ran just 14 plays in the first half. Corey Hayes ran 10 times for 95 yards in the second half and Paden completed just three of his eight second half passes.

Liberty's Brandon Rios had three sacks, which really set the tone for the Leopards (1-1) in the second half.

"Coach (Dave) Davis did a great job with the defensive unit," Cylar said. "I challenged them this week and they answered the challenge. That's what I expect my players and coaches to do, answer the challenge. We just want to build and answer every week."

Pleas ran for three touchdowns, including his 1-yard keeper and two-point conversion run that tied it at 20 late in the second quarter and and another 1-yard punch in gave Liberty the lead for good at the 6:49 mark of the third quarter. The senior, who just recently turned 17, finished with 183 rushing yards on 24 carries and 63 yards on 4 of 6 passing.

"I've been around some great players," Cylar said. But I have never, ever been around a more versatile player than Asim Pleas."

Pleas' pass after another 1-yard TD run to Dontre Adams on a conversion try put the Leopards up by nine with 2:18 remaining. With Niles facing a fourth down inside the Liberty 15-yard line, Pleas picked off a Paden pass to seal the upset victory.

"I got beat for a touchdown on that play earlier," he said. "I promised I would get it back so that's what I had to do."

After starting at slot receiver against Salem, Bowden was told he'd be the starting running back on Monday in preparation for the Dragons.

"I was surprised," said Bowden, a freshman. "There's some great upperclassmen above me. I was glad they gave me the position. I felt better as the game went on."

He ran 23 times for 132 yards, with a long of 36. John Cicero ran 15 times for 97 yards, leading Niles on the ground.

"I don't know if we can ever see a good loss at Niles," Shaner said. "Every game is a must win but we put a lot of emphasis on this one. We really felt we needed to be 2-0 with West Branch coming next week."