Coming into the season, Liberty North coach Ken Clemens was confident that he would have a pretty effective and experienced defense.
However, he definitely did not expect it to shut out Raytown for a season-opening 30-0 victory on Friday night at William Jewell College.
The staunch defense, which forced five turnovers, ended up being key to helping the Eagles recover from a pair of their own first-half fumbles.
“We anticipated a good defensive showing but did not anticipate it being this good,” Clemens said. “We played Raytown, and they pretty much handed it to us this summer and looked good in their jamborees, so we figured we could give up some yards and first downs and points, but the defense was really solid for us.”
The defense took the spotlight early with an interception by junior defensive back Sidney Shumate on the third play of the game. Although the Eagles did not convert despite driving to the 1-yard line, it did not take long for redemption.
The defense forced a punt on Raytown’s second drive, and KiAndre Pugh returned it 15 yards, setting Liberty North up at the 21 yard line. On the next play, Brian Sharp connected with Pugh for a 21-yard touchdown. Josh Crawford added the extra kick.
That was about it for their first-half success, though, as they fumbled on two straight possessions, had another turnover on downs and punted before the break.
“I don’t know if it was first-game jitters or sweaty hands, but we couldn’t catch it and couldn’t hold on,” Clemens said. “We’ve had zero putting-the-ball-on-the-ground problems over the summer, so it was frustrating.”
Once again, the defense came through holding the Bluejays to just two first downs, a fumble and an interception to keep them off the scoreboard.
The Eagles got back into the groove offensively in the second half with an interception by senior linebacker Sal Silvio on the Bluejays’ first possession. He picked off Raytown’s Joe Straws and ran it back for a 22-yard pick-6.
Richard Richardson, who rushed for nearly 230 yards, broke free on a 27-yard run later in the third quarter and led the Eagles down to the 1-yard line. The next two plays resulted in negative yardage and an incompletion before Richardson went twirling into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown on fourth down.
From there, Liberty North added a safety on a Raytown punt, and Sharp connected with Jack DeGarmo for a 40-yard touchdown to seal the victory.
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