Liberty finally beat Westminster last night for the first time in the school's 16-year history -- but the Lions made it worth the wait.
Bill Shaffer and Josh Denning combined for 305 yards and five touchdowns rushing, and No. 11 Liberty rolled up 468 yards of total offense on the way to its inaugural victory over
Liberty (7-1, 2-0), which can wrap up the county title with a victory over North Carroll in two weeks, had lost each of the eight previous encounters with Westminster (1-7, 0-2).
And while the subject did not come up much among the Lions this week, the players certainly were aware of it.
"They didn't really talk about it," said Liberty coach Ken Johnson. "I was really worried about them looking past this game to [next week's game with] Thomas Johnson. But they didn't."
Liberty came up with numerous big plays for its points. Shaffer (158 yards on 14 carries) scored on runs of 22 and 65 yards while Denning (147 yards on nine carries) had touchdown runs of seven, 11 and 80 yards.
Westminster often used an eight-man front, and Liberty got good blocks from center Jim Smutek and left guard Gaelen Cross to spring the backs. Justin Barnowski added 88 yards as Liberty finished with 437 yards on the ground.
The Lions started quickly, taking the opening kickoff and marching 74 yards on 10 plays, capped by a 1-yard quarterback sneak from Ryan Pagels on fourth and one.
After forcing a Westminster punt, Chad Counts' 49-yard punt return gave the Lions the ball at the Westminster 24.
Three plays later, Shaffer burst up the middle for a 22-yard score and a 14-0 lead. Westminster answered on the ensuing kickoff as Brooks Wagner raced 75 yards for a touchdown on a reverse to cut it to 14-7.
But the Lions came back right away. Shaffer nearly broke the kickoff return for a score, being dragged down at midfield after a 34-yard run.
Six plays later, Denning broke free to the right for an 11-yard touchdown for a 20-7 lead that gave the Lions control.
"Right from there, we knew we were [in command]," said Shaffer.
The key drive came at the end of the first half. Liberty got the ball at its own 25 with 52 seconds left. But a 20-yard pass from Pagels to Barnowski and a 26-yard run from Barnowski put the Lions at the Westminster 17 with two seconds left.
Johnson then summoned kicker Luke Vriezen. The junior then booted a 35-yard field goal -- with room to spare -- for a 23-7 halftime lead. Vriezen also kicked five extra points.
Liberty dominated the second half. Westminster made several good plays, often shutting Liberty down, but the Lions came up with a number of big plays for points.
"They're a good football team," said Westminster coach Tim Ebersole. "We're just young, and when you're young you're going to make mistakes."
But Liberty did not make many. And even though the team did not talk much about it, beating Westminster proved awfully sweet. Just ask Pagels.
"It's big, it's real big," said the quarterback. "I wanted it bad. That puts the point on the exclamation."
Shaffer, who came into the game with 1,174 yards rushing, needed only 29 yards to break the school record and did so in the first quarter. He now has 1,332 yards and 20 touchdowns for the season.
But the Lions still have some work to do. They have to face Central Maryland Conference power Thomas Johnson next week a game that will have a big impact on whether the Lions qualify for the playoffs.
Johnson wants the team to stay focused and keep looking at things one game at a time. But he's certainly glad that the Lions ended their 0-for-Westminster streak.
"I definitely think it's a monkey off their backs," said Johnson. "It's nice to beat Westminster."