Leopards on a tear

Liberty reels off five wins in a row

092917...R LIB@LABRAE 7...Warren Twp...Liberty's #1 Dra Rushton looks for running room as LaBrae's #80 Tyler Stephens, left, and #12 Dominic Harris, right, pursue during 1st half action...by R. Michael Semple

092917...R LIB@LABRAE 7...Warren Twp...Liberty's #1 Dra Rushton looks for running room as LaBrae's #80 Tyler Stephens, left, and #12 Dominic Harris, right, pursue during 1st half action...by R. Michael Semple

LIBERTY — Chet Allen had a good feeling going into his third year as the Liberty Leopards football head coach.

That feeling looked a bit misplaced after two games. The Leopards were 0-2 and making some silly mistakes, ones Allen thought a team with 22 returning lettermen and 16 seniors was past.

They were. It just took them a little time to realize it.

“After the Struthers game, after watching film and making corrections, we knew they understood it,” said Allen, whose Leopards faced Struthers (5-2) and Lakeview (6-1) to open the year. “They grasped it up until halftime at Lakeview, and then we shot ourselves in the foot and didn’t make plays and let things happen.

“We had a little letdown, but it’s the beauty of scheduling that you’re able to have something happen. The turnaround was really the Brookfield game. We came out fast and executed in all three phases of the game.”

The Leopards, now 5-2, clobbered the Warriors, 32-0 in Week 4, and they’ve been on a tear ever since.

Liberty has outscored its last five opponents 223 to 40 and enters Thursday’s game at Jefferson on a roll it hasn’t seen since Lynn Bowden was wearing maroon and gold.

A Bowden-like player is leading the charge. Quarterback Dra Rushton’s speed and elusiveness has led to a team-high 894 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. He has improved passing as well, completing 34-of-67 passes for 603 yards (17.7 yards per completion) with six TDs and three interceptions.

“His patience of him not wanting to do everything himself,” said Allen of where Rushton has improved. “He’s picking up the guys around him and saying, ‘You guys can do it. We all can do it.’ As much as they feed off of him, he feeds off of them. He wants to have fun and he wants those guys to have fun, and everybody does and we’re all happy.”

While Rushton’s dual-threat capability fuels a powerful offense, other players are playing significant roles. A big, veteran line is the key.

Players like Mohannad Yusuf, James Spisak, Derek Gilcher, David Sewell and Simi Moananu are dominating the trenches and clearing the way for a rushing attack that has amassed 1,890 yards and 25 touchdowns.

“They’ve grown up in the last two-and-a-half years,” Allen said of the line. “It’s believing in themselves and maturing and understanding it’s fun to push people around. They have an attitude that’s good for the team. They have somewhat of a chip on their shoulder when they go out to prove people wrong that, ‘Hey, I can be a smart guy and still beat people up and get away with it.’ That’s what we do up front.”

Their growth has helped more than just Rushton.

First-year running back Brian Maddox is second on the team with 454 rushing yards and four TDs. Charles Pickard adds 234 yards and two TDs. Both are averaging more than six yards per carry. Receivers Capone Haywood and Quaishon Campbell are major threats on the outside. Haywood has a team-best 17 catches for 203 yards and three TDs, while Campbell has 225 yards on just eight receptions — averaging 28.1 yards per catch — with two TDs.

“You can’t have 11 sets of eyes now on Dra Rushton,” Allen said. “Now you’ve got to worry about a Quaishon Campbell or a Charles Pickard or a Brian Maddox, Capone Haywood, Chris Edmonds. They can touch the the ball and take off just as well as Dra can. It’s opened up the field for everybody, so hopefully we continue to distribute the football around.”

The defense has been hot as well, allowing eight points per game during their five-game win streak.

Edmonds is a star at linebacker, with a team-high 52 tackles, 11.5 for loss, and eight sacks. Allen, a former defensive coordinator, lauded Edmonds but said his progress is partially due to those around him picking up their games.

“Everyone is doing their job to the best of their ability,” Allen said. “We’re covering gaps. We’re playing downhill, and we’re just doing (things) right. It’s really not a special scheme. It’s not a special anything. It’s 11 guys playing for each other and doing their jobs.”

They’ll need to keep doing them as the Leopards are currently 12th in Region 21 of Division VI, a brutal region with numerous state-ranked teams.

Allen said he lets other people worry about computer points and ratings.

“That’s why I have assistant coaches,” he said. “They pay attention to that. I’m just trying to keep (the players’) heads on straight.”

So far, so good.

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