Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
NORTH LIBERTY – The night was perfect. The sunset was spectacular. The stadium state-of-the-art. The stands were full and juiced.
Then the Liberty High varsity football team initiated its home field by successfully executing an onside kick that was recovered by junior Brian Lively.
“We watched film, and we targeted that position on the field, and we really wanted to get out early and get some points on the board,” Lively said. “I was just supposed to run down and hit the kid who was supposed to get the ball, but the ball just rolled right to me. So I was just like, ‘Hey, let’s get on it.’
“It was electric. The crowd was insane. It was incredible.”
The rest was butter.
The Lightning used a combination of ball control, courageous play calling and opportunistic defense to defeat Waterloo East 18-6 Friday night in the first home game in school history.
“It’s amazing; we had the whole community out here,” running back Jack Ankenbauer said. “The whole atmosphere was just perfect.”
After Lively’s recovery at the Trojans’ 37, Ankenbauer ran six times and scored on a two-yard run just 2:10 into the game.
“Our offensive line was really amazing,” Ankenbauer said. “We pounded the rock over and over and over again, making their defense really tired.”
Liberty had a great chance to score again after East snapped the ball over the punter’s head, forcing him to recover at the Trojan 6. But East’s defense held on that set of downs and took over on its own 4, seemingly having slowed the Lightning momentum.
But in stepped Liberty’s Ben Kruger with an interception on the third play from scrimmage to set up the Bolts at the East 16.
“I saw him break down the middle on that kind of fly route, and I just had to pounce on it because I saw the QB put up his arm to throw,” Kruger said. “I was in the right place at the right time. It was big for me and big for the team to start off.”
Liberty overcame an offside penalty, and Drake Woody’s 17-yard pass to Dawson Zimmerman set up a two-yard TD run by Ankenbauer to take a 12-0 lead.
Liberty elected to run for the PAT after all of its touchdowns and failed to convert each time.
The Bolts weren’t through pulling lightning out of the bottle and successfully executed an onside kick again.
This time Zimmerman recovered on the East 46. This time Woody connected with Ben Houselog on a 28-yard gain, and Max Tafolla finished off the drive with a two-yard TD run.
Liberty led 18-0 after one quarter.
That was an interesting enough quarter, but the second was even stranger.
Liberty consumed 10:23 in a 90-yard drive from its own 6 to the Trojan 4-yard line.
The drive included 22 plays, and twice coach Jeff Gordon let his team go for it on fourth down (once on its own 30-yard line) and it converted.
But Liberty didn’t score. On fourth-and-two at the East 4, Woody tried a pass into the corner of the end zone, but it was intercepted.
Still East had hardly seen the ball in the quarter.
“We were fortunate to only play 18 snaps of defense in the first half,” Lively said. “We were able to keep our defense fresh and off the field.”
“Maybe we focused a little too much on eating clock and not enough on scoring,” Gordon said. “That’s something to look at, that maybe we need to be more aggressive. I was really proud of the boys, but I wish we would finish. We get the ball inside the five, we ought to be able to finish.”
The Bolts (1-1) held East (0-2) to 16 offensive plays, one first down and dominated time of possession in the first half.
East rushed for minus-29 yards and threw for just nine. Liberty rushed for 131 yards and passed for 55 in the first half.
“When we came into the locker room we said it was 0-0 and we’re coming out like we have a chip on our shoulder,” tackle Alec Boldt said.
East was better in the second half, mostly because it had a chance to keep its offense on the field a bit more.
The Trojans used a hurry-up offense and a short passing game to try to get its players into space and create. It did create some yardage, and it did rack up 13 first downs. But the Trojans managed only six points.
“They got their mojo going eventually,” Kruger said. “But in the red zone we made a few stops, which was big for us. Our whole goal was to get the offense back on (the field) and have them pound the ball like they had been all day.”
A long Trojan drive early in the third period ended at the three-yard line on a fumble recovered by Liberty’s Max Lenane.
A second long drive ended with Lively’s interception in the end zone when he sealed off his receiver.
“They came out with fire, and it was our job to put it out,” Boldt said. “Brian had a great pick there.”
“I just knew we had to step up and make a play,” Lively said. “I just made sure I kept my deep vertical leverage and made sure I made a play.”
East finally did score on its next drive on a 27-yard pass from Dylan Reyes to Aidan Ernst.
East tried an onside kick but botched the execution by touching the ball before it had gone 10 yards.
Liberty won its first varsity game and its first home game by exploiting an imposing ground game, which accounted for 60 rushes and 209 yards, all out of a tight formation where no player lines up outside the tackles.
Gordon attributed the running game to his team’s dedication in using the school’s new weight room.
“Those guys have embraced it, and when they work that hard in the weight room it makes us pretty smart as football coaches,” he said. “We had some success, but we really weren’t dominant by any means.”
After a short meeting in the school building the players burst back on to the field to receive well-earned congratulations from classmates and family.
“This is awesome; this is so cool,” Boldt said.
“This is huge,” Kruger said. “It’s huge for us, it’s huge for the fans. I think it’s huge for the community, just everybody coming out, because our stands were almost full today. Having everybody come out and see the Bolts play their first game at the “Whomp House” is huge.”
First downs 14 14
Rushing-yards 24-7 60-209
Comp-att-int 18-27-2 3-8-1
Passing-yards 182 55
Punts-avg. 1-47 2-34
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 5-33 4-40
Waterloo East 0 0 0 6 – 6
Liberty High 18 0 0 0 – 18
ICL – Jack Ankenbauer 2 run (run failed)
ICL – Ankenbauer 2 run (run failed)
ICL – Max Tafolla 2 run (run failed)
WE – Aidan Ernst 27 pass from Dylan Reyes (kick failed)
Rushing – WE: Kendall Robinson 7-22, Aidan Ernst 1-(-5), Dylan Reyes 10-(-27), Griffen Bender 1-3, Ahkil Muhammad 2-6, Tavious Jenkins 1-9, team 2-(-1). ICL: Jack Ankenbauer 34-120, Max Tafolla 19-78, Drake Woody 3-10, Kaleb Williams 1-1, Team 2-0.
Passing – WE: Reyes 18-27-2-182. ICL: Woody 3-8-1-55.
Receiving – WE: Ernst 4-52, Tyrell Newman 2-33, Robinson 3-23, Bender 2-21, Jenkins 2-21, Muhammad 3-19, Scott Bickel 1-12. ICL: Dawson Zimmerman 2-27, Ben Houselog 1-28