Red Devils thump top seed Blacksburg

Brandy Karr/Photo

Liberty senior Shaun Karr led the Red Devils with 105 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in a 31-7 romp over top-seeded Blacksburg last Friday night on the road.

By Jimmy Kirby
Courier Sports

BLACKSBURG — The Liberty High School football season continues to roll on into December, as the Red Devils traveled to Blacksburg to take on the Wildcats and came away with a dominating and resounding 31-7 victory in the second round of the Class 2A playoffs last Friday.

The Red Devils took advantage of a fumble by Treshon Peeler on the opening kickoff and marched straight down the field in six plays, covering 39 yards, to go up 7-0, and never looked back. Cavaugio Butler scored from three yards out, while Nick Reeves completed key passes to Michael Spruill and Butler for 17 and 10 yards, respectively, on the drive.

Although the Red Devils never looked back after the opening score, dominating the stats for the entire game, Blacksburg stayed close and the game was tied 7-7 at the end of the first quarter thanks to a weird play. The Red Devils were on the march again to close out the quarter, but Butler was stripped of the ball in the pile around left end and Blacksburg’s Jordan Rodgers streaked down the sidelines with the football in front of the Liberty coaching staff for a 92-yard fumble return touchdown.

11-30 Page 1B.inddThe Wildcats had run a grand total of three plays in the first quarter, good for negative-three yards, but were even on the scoreboard. The Red Devils, meanwhile, had already run 29 plays in the first quarter and piled up 155 total yards. Good things were still to come.

The execution of the Red Devils in the second quarter was a thing of beauty. Both offensively and defensively, they worked together for a dominant quarter and a dominant game.

Shaun Karr scored twice in the second quarter on runs of one and 11 yards to put the Red Devils up 21-7. Karr had a career game, as he ran for 105 yards on 16 carries. The Red Devils had good success with their power run game against the Wildcats, especially over right tackle, where much of the yardage was gained.

Blacksburg appeared to catch the Red Devils by surprise following the fumble return for a touchdown. The Wildcats appeared to have successfully recovered an onside kick, but they were flagged for illegal touching of the football before it traveled the necessary 10 yards, and the Red Devils had excellent field position at the Blacksburg 49-yard line and went straight down the field for a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Liberty stopped the Wildcats again on the ensuing drive as Jacob Herman tackled Tremon La’Francis for a seven-yard loss back to the Blacksburg 47-yard line on fourth and two.

Reeves found Spruill for 12 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive, and Clay Lollis rumbled up the middle for 21 yards two plays later. Karr then went around right tackle on the money play all night for the 11-yard score to put the Red Devils up 21-7 with 5:56 remaining in the second quarter.

The Wildcats secured their initial first down of the game on an 11-yard Rodgers run that ignited the Blacksburg fans, but three plays later the Wildcats were forced to punt as the drive stalled at their own 46-yard line.

11-30 Page 1B.inddLiberty then took off again as Karr bolted over right tackle for 24 yards to the Blacksburg 47-yard line. It took eight plays for the Red Devils to travel 71 yards. Butler scored on a seven-yard run with 28 seconds to go in the quarter for a 28-7 halftime lead.

Brandy Karr/Photo   Liberty sophomore Jack Brissey comes up with a big sack on Friday night at Blacksburg. The Red Devils limited the Wildcats to less than 100 yards of total offense in the win.

The key coming into the game was to stop the Blacksburg run game. Liberty coach Kyle Stewart knew if the Devils could be successful there, the Wildcats had a tough time throwing the ball, which became evident as the game went along.

The Liberty defense gave up a total of 96 yards for the game. The Red Devils were obviously focused and well prepared. It was their plan to make Blacksburg one-dimensional in taking away their run game.

“We wanted to keep their linemen off the linebackers and key the pull,” Stewart said after the game. “That is what was preached all week, and the guys did a great job with it.”

Stewart was surprised a bit by the dominance of his team. He wasn’t sure how they would play since they were out of school all week for Thanksgiving break.

“We prepared just like we always do. We did not practice on Thursday (Thanksgiving) but did a walk through Friday morning and then proceeded with our normal pregame,” he said. “We did our practices this week in the mornings, and that was the only real change. Everything else we tried to keep as normal of a routine as possible.”

Stewart said the fumble recovery on the opening kickoff was a big momentum boost.

“I had faith our defense would get an early stop, so that is why we deferred the coin toss, and that just allowed us an extra possession,” he said.

Stewart said his team’s ground game was even more successful than he had hoped.

11-30 Page 1B.indd“We thought we could move it running-wise, but I did think we would have to throw it a little bit more,” he said. “Our guys up front were motivated and did an outstanding job in the first half. Shaun had a career night, and he should be proud.”

Brandy Karr/Photo
Liberty’s Clay Lollis rumbles for a big pickup against Blacksburg on Friday night. Lollis averaged more than 13 yards per carry on his four offensive touches against the Wildcats.

Stewart said the coaching staff noticed the success they were having running over right tackle as the game progressed, and they kept going to the same power running play. They didn’t use misdirection, just mixed up their formations and found success with the power run game.

“We say the same thing sometimes,” he said. “We were just having a little more success to that side. I think the mentality we took into the game helped a lot.

“We use a lot of wing T and flexbone-type schemes just out of other formations. We have the element for misdirection, but the meat of our gains Friday came from our basic power play.”

11-30 Page 1B.inddThe Red Devils came out in the third quarter with the football and went straight down the field. The drive was stopped short due to a block in the back, and the drive stalled at the 17-yard line. Austin Kemp kicked a 34 yard field goal to extend the lead to 31-7 for the final points of the game.

The Liberty defense continued to fluster the Wildcats and stop the run drive after drive. When asked to pass, Blacksburg quarterback Elijah Rogers was consistently sacked or flushed from the pocket, forcing throws that were off the mark. Rogers was sacked four times in the game for a loss of 34 yards.

The Red Devils outgained Blacksburg 282 to 44 yards on the ground. Reeves was efficient throwing the ball, as he was 8-of-11 for 84 yards. Rogers was just 4-of-9 for 52 yards. Total yards were 366 to 96 in favor of the Red Devils. For the game, Blacksburg ran only 36 offensive plays to 61 for Liberty.

With the win, the Red Devils will play football in December for the first time in the modern era, as Hurricane Matthew pushed back the season by two weeks. State championship games that are normally scheduled to be played the first week of December will now be played just more than a week from Christmas.

11-30 Page 1B.inddStewart said playing in December is a “first-time experience for all of us except for a few coaches.”

“It is exciting,” he said.

Stewart hopes his team will continue to see a bright future as it travels down the road again this week.

“I see a bright future for these players down the road,” he said. “As for this season, I hope we are peaking right here at a good time and can just continue to have fun.”

Stewart said the Red Devils will face a good football team in Saluda. He said they run the ball well and are led by an athletic quarterback who can run or pass the football.

“Solid all the way around,” he said. “Good defensive line, athletic QB, and a solid running game to go with it.”

The Tigers are 11-1 on the season heading into the quarterfinals of the 2A upper state playoffs.

For the Red Devils to be successful, they will have to again play a flawless game. Their plan is to run the ball successfully and mix in the passing game when needed.

“From what we have seen on film, I hope we can utilize some of the gaps available by their front players and get into the second level,” he said.

When asked how it feels to be one of the last eight Class 2A teams in the state playing on Friday night, Stewart broke into a wide smile.

“Pretty cool — I hope our players realize how special this is and remember it for the rest of their lives,” he said.