Liberty is preparing for its second consecutive playoff berth the only way it knows how — by controlling only what it’s capable of.
The Lions earned the No. 4 seed entering the Class 2A West Region playoffs and take on No. 1 Damascus at Damascus in semifinal Friday night at 7. The progress has gradually come together for the Lions, who are on a three-game win streak against county opponents entering Friday’s game.
“Knowing that, for four years, we’ve been putting this work in since we were freshmen and seeing all come together in this final season and making the playoffs two years in row, it’s pretty impressive,” senior lineman Josh Ruehl said.
The Lions (8-2) will be tested, and they know it.
The Swarmin’ Hornets (10-0) are on a 38-game win streak and have not lost since Dec. 4, 2014 — against Franklin in the 3A state championship game. They have won back-to-back 3A state titles since, but the state’s new alignment moved the Hornets to 2A before this season.
“We need to control the tempo of the game and avoid giving up big plays and make them actually really work our drive to drive the ball down the field to beat us,” Lions coach Larry Luthe said. “That’s what we’re going to focus on, our sound fundamental discipline and not give up big plays.”
Senior running back Blaine Roach (436 yards, eight touchdowns) paces the Lions’ offense alongside Noah Rohrer (311, five). Quarterback Nolan Karfonta has thrown for 1,213 yards and 13 touchdowns, while adding 78 rushes for 315 yards and four touchdowns.
Rohrer leads the Lions with 26 receptions for 448 yards to go with three TDs.
On defense, seniors Ruehl and Zach Morris help block for a line that is consistently praised by teammates. Sophomore McClain Butler leads the team with 91 tackles for the Lions.
“I think it’s been nice to be able to go up against our defense day in and day out,” Roach said. “I think we have the best defense around so any chance to go up against one of them is a good day, it’s fun.
“It definitely helps to have a lot of guys that start on defense that end up running our scout team ‘D.’ It gives us a nice look for the offense so we’re able to be ready for the competition on Friday nights.”
The Lions defeated crosstown rival Century in the highly anticipated Freedom Bell matchup in Week 10, keeping the trophy for a second straight year — the first time Liberty has accomplished that feat.
Luthe had nothing but positive things to say about his assistant coaches — Will Bristol, Matt Schilling, Brad Swartz, Rick Anderson, and Tom Gizzi — who have worked strategically all season to help the Lions build their confidence under pressure.
“I think the big thing for us is when we go play a game like this, I said to the players, watch Damascus’ film, they’re very good, but take a minute to watch some of our film,” Luthe said. “We wouldn’t be where we are if we weren’t a pretty good football team. We can’t forget who we are and hopefully we can play to our abilities to win this game.”