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Different game, same outcome for Liberty

November 10, 2013
By MATT WAGNER - Tribune Chronicle (mwagner@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

COLUMBIANA - When Crestview and Liberty met during Week 3 of the regular season, the Rebels took an early lead and held off a late Leopard charge to get the win.

For those individuals who witnessed that affair, they experienced deja vu Saturday night in a Division V, Region 15 quarterfinal matchup, a rematch between the two schools that hadn't played each other prior to this season. The Rebels took a big lead into halftime and stopped Liberty's late comeback attempt in a 35-26 win at Rebel Stadium.

"We played our game in spurts," Liberty coach Kevin Cylar said. "We didn't play our game continuously throughout. There were times where we were forcing the action and being more physical, and there were times, we just lulled to sleep a little bit. So, the better team won."

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The Leopards (7-4) started off the game the way they wanted, as the defense stalled the Rebels (10-1) opening drive at the Liberty 26-yard line, but things went downhill quickly from that point.

On Liberty's first offensive play, Brandon Rios took the ball in the wildcat formation and charged into a mass of players. The ball squirted out at some point in the scrum, and Crestview's Josh McDade scooped it up and took it 20 yards for the score.

Liberty marched down the field on a nine-play, 80-yard drive to pull within one point off a 10-yard touchdown run by Lynn Bowden, who tallied a game-high 187 yards rushing, but the Rebels answered right back, with Jake Ferris scampering 70 yards on the kick return with 1:04 remaining in the first quarter.

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Special to Tribune Chronicle / Patti Schaeffer
Liberty's Lynn Bowden, middle, runs against Crestview's Aaron Rankin (15) and Spencer DeSalvo on Saturday.

"We had the momentum stopping them," Cylar said. "With high school kids, it's all about momentum. (Crestview) seemed to get it going, and we couldn't seem to get it back on track."

For Crestview coach Paul Cusick, it was a welcome sign, as the Rebels had just four offensive possessions in the first half and only had to go more than 41 yards on one of them - the team's unsuccessful opening drive.

"That makes you feel good, maybe things are going your way," Cusick said. "When those things happen, it's just a bonus. We'll take however we can get in the end zone."

The Rebels took a 22-point advantage into the break and held onto it until the fourth quarter, when the Leopards came roaring back.

Liberty scored 20 of its points in the final frame, interrupted only by a Collin Gilbert 50-yard touchdown pass to McDade to give Crestview a 35-12 lead with 8 minutes remaining in the game. It proved to be a crucial score, considering the Leopards scored 14 points after that and had the ball with 1:06 remaining.

"On the sidelines, coach (Cusick) said, 'Here it goes again,' " said Gilbert, who rushed for a team-high 106 yards on 24 attempts. "That's the same thing that happened Week 3. They're a great team, they have great athletes. We knew that we kind of had to hold that off."

The Leopards were able to claw back into the game thanks in large part to the efforts of Bowden and senior quarterback Asim Pleas, who led the Leopards with 52 yards in the first half and finished with the game with 167 yards on the ground.

Pleas scrambled for big yards whenever the pass rush got to him in the second half, including a 19-yard run on a 4-and-11 play midway through the third quarter to extend a drive that eventually fell short. He also caught a pass from Bowden for a 30-yard score at the 5-minute mark in the fourth.

"We asked Asim to lay it all on the line tonight," Cylar said. "Spectacular, I would call his performance tonight."

Although the Leopards rued the early struggles, Cylar praised the players' attempt at a comeback following the game.

"I have a bunch of kids with a bunch of heart in that locker room," Cylar said. "There ain't no quit in the Liberty Leopards."