Liberty went on the road Friday night and beat Glenelg in a shootout, 35-28, to advance to the 2A state quarterfinals.
It’s the first time in school history the Lions have won two postseason games in the same year and advanced this far into the playoffs. They had lost in the first round each of the last three years after winning their only postseason game in 2014.
“I feel badly that they had to lose. Both teams went down, they made plays,” said Liberty coach Larry Luthe. “I mean, it was a great high school football game.”
The Lions’ win wouldn’t have been possible without every yard gained by dual-threat quarterback Nate Kent. The two-year starter and reigning Carroll County Player of the Year finished 12 of 19 passing for 260 yards and three touchdowns and an interception while running for 89 yards and a score on 24 carries.
Running back Tommy Nelson also shined, gaining 116 yards rushing and a touchdown on 21 carries while catching two passes for 56 yards and another score.
“I think Nate Kent is one of the best quarterbacks in the area,” Luthe said. “I hope somebody sees this. He hasn’t gotten an offer yet at the next level and I think somebody should look at that. He’s composed, he’s competitive, you know, he put us in the right play a couple of times.”
Glenelg senior Kyle Dry did his part for last year’s 2A state finalists. The senior carried the ball 18 times for 182 yards and two scores and also caught a pass for 25 yards.
Liberty (8-3) scored on its second offensive possession and relied on the running legs of Nelson, who carried the ball five times for 56 yards and found the end zone on a 5-yard run.
Glenelg answered by capitalizing on a Lions’ turnover. Nelson fumbled at the Lions’ 17, and the Dry scored on a 6-yard run three plays later.
Glenelg (7-4) marched 77 yards on nine plays its next possession to take the lead. Dry broke free for a 32-yard run, and then caught a 29-yard pass on the next play on a reverse pass to set up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Mason Davis to Drew Sotka (3 receptions, 19 yards, 2 TD) on 3rd and goal.
Once again, Liberty answered immediately. A botched coverage allowed Peyton Scheufele (4 receptions, 85 yards, 2 TD) to run wide open down the seam for a 47-yard touchdown completion, but a blocked extra point kept Glenelg in front, 14-13.
The Gladiators remained aggressive on offense in the two-minute drill. A nine-play drive spanned 65 yards and ended with Sotka catching another touchdown pass, this time from 8 yards out, to give Glenelg a 21-13 lead at the half.
The aggression, however, came back to bite the Gladiators. They tried a surprise on-side kick and nearly recovered, but Liberty ultimately retained it. The visitors took advantage and went 49 yards in seven plays, the last a 2-yard touchdown run by Kent on 4th and goal to get within 21-20.
Glenelg coach Tim Cullen said he felt his team needed to steal a possession and that a two-score lead would’ve changed the game for both teams and made Liberty press.
“I thought 28 points would be enough but we ended up needing 42,” he said. “Chris [Retzbach] did a great job with the on-side kick, it just didn’t work out, but I thought with the momentum, if we could’ve put another score on they would’ve started scrambling.”
A stop by the Lions’ defense setup another score to allow them to take their first lead since the first quarter. This time they drove the entire field, as Paul Libbee hauled in a 44-yard pass and Michael Spitz (5 receptions, 75 yards, TD) caught a 15-yarder on back-to-back plays. Three snaps later, Kent hit Scheufele for a 20-yard touchdown in the front corner of the end zone to give Liberty a 27-21 advantage.
“That was as good of a throw you’ll see,” Luthe said.
The lead lasted one play. Dry broke loose for a 65-yard touchdown run on Glenelg’s first play of the ensuing drive.
Liberty needed one final response and got it. The Lions went 75 yards on 10 plays, and Kent found Nelson wide open down the left sideline for a 31-yard touchdown on a third-and-7 on the second play of the fourth quarter. A two-point conversion pass to Scheufele gave Liberty a 35-28 lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Glenelg failed to get a first down on either of its two drives in the fourth quarter, and the Lions chewed up more than six minutes on an 11-play drive that included a 4th down conversion from their own 44.
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“I’m just so proud of those guys and that’s what I told them,” Cullen said. “I’m going to miss all of them. They bought into what we were trying to do this year and they trusted me and our new staff and I just couldn’t be happier with the way the seniors just bought right in and the growth that that they made.”