Key turnover a pivotal point as Lakeview defeats Liberty

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Lakeview’s Drew Munno (80) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass Friday in Lakeview’s 30-20 win over Liberty.

CORTLAND — Things were headed in completely different directions for Liberty and Lakeview heading into the second half of their matchup at Don Richards Field.

The Leopards scored 14-unanswered points to take the lead right before halftime and were set to receive the ball to start the second half, while Lakeview was struggling to put together drives and contain a speedy Liberty team.

The direction of the game then took a U-turn within a split second into the third quarter.

Liberty fumbled the kickoff to start the second half, and a slew of mistakes followed. The Bulldogs made sure to take advantage of all of them in a 30-20 non-conference Lakeview victory.

“Sometimes it can,” said Lakeview coach Tom Pavlansky of whether one play can swing the momentum of a game. “We had a little sense of urgency at halftime, and our guys know that every single play can make a difference. Every single play matters.”

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Lakeview’s Tony Crish, right, runs the ball against the Liberty defense during the second half of the Bulldogs’ 30-20 victory over the Leopards.

Oddly enough, the Bulldogs (1-1) were trying to avoid a big play from Liberty (0-2) during the fumbled kickoff.

A short pooch kick to the 35-yard line bounced off the thigh pad of a Liberty player who was trying to catch the ball. The football shot off his leg about 15 yards forward, and Lakeview recovered at the Liberty 40. Pavlansky said the Bulldogs were kicking the ball short to keep it out of the hands of Liberty’s quick returners — namely do-it-all quarterback Dra Rushton.

“We were very concerned about their athleticism, about their speed,” Pavlansky said. “Dra Rushton is one of the better ones in the area, without question. We didn’t want him to touch the ball. He touches it enough on offense. We didn’t want to give him any opportunities there.”

The Bulldogs converted a fourth-and-2 from the Liberty 32 and eventually scored on a shovel pass from Zach Rogers to Tony Crish that tied the game at 14.

Liberty endured a three-and-out on its ensuing drive, and the snap to the punter soared over his head and out of the end zone on fourth down for a safety and a 16-14 Lakeview lead. The mishap was one of several issues for the Leopards in the second half. Liberty, which outgained Lakeview 293 to 251, also threw two interceptions, and for the game, committed 10 penalties for 85 yards, a few of which came at critical moments.

“That totally changed the game,” Liberty coach Chet Allen said of the mistakes. “We fumble on the kick return, then we jump offsides on a fourth-and-2 and now we flipped the script on ourselves. How do you do that and expect to win? You give the team more points than they should have. But they’re a good team. They capitalized on it, and that’s what happens. Good teams do that to you.”

Lakeview had a three-and-out following the safety, but Drew Munno made one of his two interceptions of Rushton on Liberty’s ensuing drive. The Bulldogs took over and eventually faced fourth-and-3 from Liberty’s 26, which is when the Leopards jumped offsides, as Allen referenced to. Lakeview converted another fourth down on the drive and Rogers eventually ran in from 5 yards out to give Lakeview a 23-14 lead.

“When Drew had a chance to make plays, he made plays,” Pavlansky said.

Munno’s second interception came early in the fourth quarter. That set up Evan Adair’s second TD run, this one from 11 yards out to push Lakeview’s lead to 30-14. Adair started the scoring with a 2-yard run in the first quarter. Adair also was part of a defense that kept Rushton in check for most of the game. He finished with 89 yards and one TD on 16 carries, but most of his damage came late in the fourth quarter.

“Dra’s a very fast quarterback,” Adair said. “We knew he was going to be running outside a lot. We knew he was going to be scrambling a lot. We practiced for it all week. We did a lot of contain drills to keep him contained on the inside.”

Liberty rallied from an early 7-0 deficit with a 56-yard TD by Brian Maddox and a 5-yard TD run by Rushton, both in the second quarter. Maddox, who ran for 115 yards on 15 carries, also scored in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 30-20, but the 2-point attempt was unsuccessful.

Lakeview travels to LaBrae next week, while Liberty tries for its first win on the road at Pymatuning Valley.