UNIONTOWN — Liberty came into Francis Scott Key on Friday night in a county matchup that carried postseason implications for each team.
The Lions used a strong start to pull away early and hold on to beat the Eagles 27-12.
In front of a filled stadium, quarterback Nolan Karfonta and the Lions (6-3, 4-1 county) ruined Francis Scott Key's homecoming game and got one step closer to a playoff berth in the Class 2A West region.
On Liberty's first offensive drive of the game Karfonta dropped back and connected with Nick Loppatto over the middle for the 30-yard score. It was the first of three first-half touchdowns, all of which coming on consecutive possessions to open the game.
The Lions were balanced on offense throughout the breakout first half, as they ran 17 passing plays and 19 running plays. The ground game picked up momentum as the half wore on as Blaine Roach and Noah Rohrer each had a rushing touchdown.
"We're trying to put ourselves in places where we can make plays and we felt we could get some people the ball and it worked pretty well in the first half," Lions coach Larry Luthe said.
But for as effective as Liberty's offense was, their defense was equally impressive. The Eagles (5-3, 2-3) came into the game boasting Carroll's leading rusher in senior Nate Imes, who reached the end zone 15 times in his first seven games while amassing over 1,150 yards.
Imes found no room to operate as Liberty held him to just 19 first-half yards on four carries. The Lions forced three turnovers in the opening half, two of which came in the form of interceptions off off FSK quarterback Jake Pirrung. Pirrung was 0 for 6 in the first half as Liberty's defense was suffocating.
Although down three scores at halftime, Francis Scott Key made plays in the third quarter to get back into the game. On a 3rd down play from the Liberty 38-yard line Imes took a toss right and cut up field at the 36-yard line and outran the Liberty defense into the end zone. Imes tallied 65 yards on seven carries for the night.
The last score of the game happened with 9 minutes, 23 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter when connected with again, this time from 16 yards out. finished the game with five grabs for 81 yards, both good for game-highs. paced the Lions with 166 passing yards, completing 12 of 21 passes.
Later in the quarter Pirrung found a rhythm completing three of four passes for 84 on a scoring drive that ended with a 14-yard pass to Steven Keeney bringing the Eagles within eight points. But it was the closest FSK would get as Liberty's defense tightened up in the final quarter.
In the closing minutes FSK was making one last push and Pirrung dropped back to pass and heaved the ball deep down the field to the Liberty 20-yard line. But defensive back Michael Spitz came down with the interception to cap off an impressive performance from the Liberty defense.
"It's awesome being able to open things up like that, especially when I have targets like that to throw to and a line blocking for me," Karfonta said.
Liberty ran down the clock after its final score with a combination of rushes from Rohrer and Roach. Rohrer rushed for 123 yards and Roach notched another 82 yards.
The Lions travel a few miles down Md. 26 for their final regular-season game against rival Century in Week 10. It's a game Liberty knows it has to win to make the playoffs.
"We're going to try to play this thing and try to get into the playoffs and get a whole lot better before next week," Luthe said. "You know we're going up against Century, where else would you want to be next Friday night?"
Liberty 13 7 0 7 — 27
FSK 0 0 12 0 — 12
L-Nick Loppatto 30 pass from Nolan Karfonta (Sean Disbrow kick)
L-Blaine Roach 1 run (kick failed)
L-Noah Rohrer 9 run (Disbrow kick)
FSK-Nate Imes 38 run (conversion failed)
FSK-Steven Keeney 14 pass from Jake Pirrung (conversion failed)
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L-Loppatto 16 pass from Karfonta (Disbrow kick)