Liberty had only one offensive lineman with varsity experience coming into the season, a statistic that gave coach Larry Luthe and his assistants some pause back in the summer.
It’s safe to say things have come together, and the Lions’ line can be quite formidable when everything is working in unison.
The unit’s steady play is part of the reason why Liberty is undefeated, and the Lions extended their win streak to nine games in a row by beating Francis Scott Key 49-13.
Liberty (9-0, 5-0 in the county) ran for more than 300 yards and had nine different players carry the ball at least once. Five of the Lions’ seven touchdowns came on the ground, and that’s with Carroll’s second leading passer (entering play Friday) running the offense in junior Nate Kent.
“We’re very inexperienced on the offensive line, and that [was] our big question mark — can we put it together?” Luthe said. “Those kids play together. They play hard for each other.”
Luthe credited assistant coach Matt Schilling for preaching responsibilities and discipline, but the players certainly have to do their part.
From left to right along the line of scrimmage, the Lions turn to junior Kyle Hutchison, junior McClain Butler, senior Braden Puller, junior Garrett Geidel, and senior Sammy Nehme.
Jake Liska, a sophomore, gets his reps along the O-line as well.
The positions aren’t flashy, but Luthe said the Lions have something good going up front.
“Let’s be honest … [playing] offensive line sucks,” Luthe said. “What stats do you have for offensive line? We might say things like pancake blocks and stuff like that, but they truly have to be the warriors of the game.
“Anybody who knows anything about football … if you don’t have a good offensive line, you don’t have a good offense.”
Liberty did its damage early and led 35-0 at halftime.
Kent threw for two touchdowns in the first half, but he ran for two as well — they came on back-to-back plays to begin possessions in the second quarter. Kent scored from short range to help make it 21-0, then darted through the middle of FSK’s defense on his next carry for a 55-yard touchdown.
Kent had 87 of his 95 rushing yards (unofficial) in the half and finished with 90 passing yards.
Nick Henderson had 65 rushing yards. Chris Smith came off the bench and broke off a 50-yard run. Tommy Nelson, a freshman, had 26 yards and scored a third-quarter touchdown.
The performance brought a smile to Henderson’s face, and the senior said he’s happy the ground work is bringing Liberty so much success.
“That’s most important part of football, I’d say, is setting up the passing game,” Henderson said. “We know what Nate can do … and our receivers are great too. So setting it up with the running game is really crucial to getting our offense going.”
Francis Scott Key (3-5, 0-5) fell too far behind to mount a serious comeback, but the Eagles didn’t stop playing.
Matt Diehl thwarted Liberty’s chances at a fifth shutout — and stopped the running clock — when he scored from 2 yards out with 24 seconds to play in the third quarter. Diehl’s touchdown run was set up when junior Gavin Rouse blocked a Lions punt and gave Key the ball on Liberty’s 8-yard line.
Nelson scored on the Lions’ next possession, but FSK answered with a 5-yard touchdown by Joseph Red-Man. The junior had a 47-yard scamper to start the drive before capping it with his TD.
Liberty wasn’t done, though — senior Chris Jones finished off a 71-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown in the final minutes.
The Lions are gearing up for the Class 2A West playoffs, but Henderson said the focus is on their next game. And it comes next Friday, right down Md. 32 for the annual crosstown matchup with rival Century.
“You know what’s coming up ahead,” Henderson said. “But on the horizon … that’s always in the back of your mind. We’re getting better every week to prepare for, hopefully, a state championship.”