Size and speed proved too difficult to overcome for Liberty in its first football state tournament game in program history.
The Lions entered Friday’s matchup against Elkton with back-to-back playoff victories, history for a team that had one postseason win before this fall. That momentum came to a halt, however, against an undefeated Golden Elks team looking to get back to the Class 2A state semifinals for a second year in a row.
Liberty stayed close for most of the first half before Elkton pulled away to win 47-14, bringing the Lions’ season to a close at 8-4.
The Elks’ offense grabbed hold of this one in the second half, powered by quarterback Nolan Null, running back Tashawn Watters, and receiver Trevin Ewing. That trio of seniors made sure Elkton (12-0) stayed alive in the state tourney.
Watters ran for close to 100 yards and scored two touchdowns, Ewing had more than 200 yards receiving and grabbed three TDs, and Null threw for four scores in the win.
“We’d make a great play and it would probably be a 20-yard gain,” said Lions coach Larry Luthe. “They made a great play and it went to the house. We just could not match their speed all over the field.”
Liberty senior quarterback Nathan Kent threw for more than 230 yards in his final high school game, including a crazy 68-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mike Spitz in the second quarter.
Spitz kept his eyes on a tipped pass during a crossing pattern, snared it around midfield, then used his speed to get around Elkton defenders and hug the far sideline for the touchdown. Sean Disbrow’s second extra point of the game tied the score at 14-14 with 4:37 to play in the half, but the Golden Elks recovered an onside kick and started at their own 48 on the next possession.
Eight plays later, Null found Michael Vass over the middle for a 24-yard scoring strike. Elkton led 21-14 at the break, fueled by its up-tempo offensive style. The Golden Elks outscored Liberty 26-0 the rest of the way.
“We wanted to keep the ball out of their hands as much as we can,” Luthe said. “We left a couple plays out there, and we didn’t have the amount of depth that they had. Speed kills, and it killed us.”
Kent had 136 passing yards in the half after starting the game 1-for-10 for 36 yards. Null, meanwhile, had 150 yards and two touchdowns.
Liberty missed a sure touchdown on the first play of the game when Kent’s long toss to a wide-open Peyton Scheufele streaking behind a confused Elkton secondary didn’t connect. But the Lions scored first anyway — sophomore Tommy Nelson found a hole on a jet sweep and raced into the end zone, on fourth-and-2, for a 46-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter.
Liberty opted for an onside kick after the score and recovered the ball, but couldn’t capitalize. Elkton drew even midway through the second quarter after an eight-play, 70-yard drive finished off with a 1-yard touchdown run from Watters.
A quick three-and-out gave the ball right back to the Golden Elks, and they struck on one play this time. Null found Ewing, Elkton’s speedy receiver/return man, for a 45-yard touchdown pass.
Ewing added touchdown catches of 70 and 76 yards for the Elks.
Kent is one of 15 seniors on Liberty’s roster, but the Lions should bring back some talented players for Luthe in 2020.
Liberty made program history this fall by winning two playoff games in the same season. The Lions had only one win in their previous six appearances, and that came five years ago. But they opened the 2A West Region playoffs by beating Oakland Mills 51-13 at home, and traveled for a second-round showdown with Glenelg to prevailed 35-28.
Kent led Liberty to a Carroll County Athletic League championship in 2018, en route to a 10-0 regular-season effort. Kent guided the Lions to another crack at a county title this year when Liberty took Westminster into overtime Oct. 25 before the Owls prevailed 34-31.
Liberty’s defense allowed 17.2 points per game entering Friday’s state quarterfinal, the lowest among Carroll teams, led by senior linebacker McClain Butler (147.5 tackles, tops in the county). Kent put together another standout season — the senior threw for more than 2,000 yards — while running back Tommy Nelson, a sophomore, provided another weapon on offense with 15 touchdowns and more than 1,000 all-purpose yards.
Meanwhile, Elkton advances to the state semifinals for a second time in four seasons. The Elks won their only state title in 2000. Elkton came into its state quarterfinal with 507 points scored this fall, an average of 46.1 points per game.