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Battle for the ages

Liberty hangs on to win Belmont rivalry

October 12, 2013
By MATT WAGNER - Tribune Chronicle (mwagner@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

GIRARD - With 23 seconds remaining and Girard down one point against cross-town rival Liberty, coach Nick Cochran and the Indians elected to go for a game-winning or losing two-point conversion.

After a squib kick and return that gave the Indians a short field down seven points, quarterback Nick Cardiero and the offense needed three plays to score. Instead of sending it into overtime, Cochran kept it in Cardiero's hands, as the quarterback ran up the middle, but Liberty defensive back Dontre Adams stopped Cardiero inches short of the goal line, and the Leopards held on to beat the Indians, 40-39, at Arrowhead Stadium on Friday night.

Admitting he was extremely nervous while watching the play from the sideline, Liberty coach Kevin Cylar said he was happy that the Indians went for it instead of sending it into overtime.

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"It was a pretty gutsy call by Mr. Cochran over there - he believed in his team," Cylar said. "I wouldn't have it any other way. When he went for it, I was happy. Like I told (my players), we're going to see who's tougher, and tonight my guys were tougher. It came down to a couple inches, and we won."

Cochran, meanwhile, said he didn't regret his decision following the game, pointing to Liberty's last two possessions in which the Leopards (5-2, 4-0 All-American Conference, National Division) erased a seven-point deficit from early in the fourth and the fact that Girard's late touchdown took the wind out of the Liberty sails.

"We're having trouble stopping them," Cochran said. "On our own field, we're on a high - their heads are maybe down a little bit. They made the play and we didn't. When it comes down to it, I wouldn't second-guess myself."

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Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Liberty’s Lynn Bowden (6) rushes past Girard’s Collin Harden (39) and into the end zone for a second-quarter touchdown. The Leopards beat the Indians, 40-39.

The Indians (3-4, 2-2 AAC, National) had the Leopards on the ropes on the team's previous drive, forcing Liberty into a fourth-and-5 situation at Girard's 35-yard line with 1:12 remaining in the game.

Normally the running back, Lynn Bowden lined up at quarterback for the play and took the snap, and it didn't take long for the pass rush to reach him. The 6-foot, 170-pound freshman scrambled in the backfield and reversed the field twice before lobbing up a pass along the Liberty sideline. There, quarterback Asim Pleas, lined up at wide receiver, ran into the path of the ball and grabbed it for a first down.

Two plays later, Bowden, who went for 208 yards on 33 carries in the game, scampered for a 16-yard touchdown on a direct snap, and a Pleas pass to Danny Markulin for the two-point conversion proved to be the winning points.

"I was supposed to run, but I told the receivers to still do their routes so if I got in trouble, I could just throw the ball," Bowden said of the fourth-down conversion. "It was a little wobbly, but my boy, Asim, he managed to get it."

While the game ended in drama, there wasn't much early. Liberty came firing out of the gates at the beginning, marching 65 and 44 yards on its first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead at the 3:13 mark in the first quarter.

Yet Girard managed to pull itself back into the game though its passing attack. Cardiero went 17 of 28 through the air for 234 yards and two touchdowns, and the 6-foot, 178-pound senior able to pick apart the Leopard defense by throwing anywhere he wanted - be it dump passes, quick out routes or touch passes along the sidelines.

"They got two good defensive backs, and we wanted to exploit the other two because their eyes were peeking in the backfield a little bit," Cochran said. "Nick threw some good balls, and the receivers made some good catches."

Still, in the end, Liberty left its archrival's stadium with a win, and Cylar said the manner of the victory made it more pleasing.

"It's not good on the blood pressure on the sidelines, but any time you can come out on top in a thriller like this, yes, it does make it a bit more sweeter," Cylar said.