Horns steal one from Bulldogs, 12-7
By J. Daniel Pearson
For the News-Gazette
The biggest moments, in the biggest games are generally reserved for the biggest stars — i.e. the difference makers. Apparently Jacob Laliberte failed to read that script. Harmony’s undersized sophomore defensive lineman knocked the football loose from St. Cloud quarterback Ian Rinehart, scooped it up and raced 20 yards for a touchdown with four minutes left to give the Longhorns a 12-7 come-from-behind win over the Bulldogs on Friday night in the ninth Soldier City Classic.
Harmony boosted its record to 3-3 and 2-1 in the district. It keeps the Brass Bugle trophy for the next year and leads the series against the Bulldogs, 5-4. St. Cloud fell to 2-4 and 1-2.
Laliberte, who was credited with a sack, forced fumble, and fumble recovery on the play, called the trifecta a dream come true.
“They had me pretty well blocked on the play but I think the quarterback was waiting for something to come open downfield,” Laliberte said. “I slid off the block and it seemed like everything started happening in slow motion. I saw the quarterback’s arm go up and I just hit him from the backside. The ball came out and bounced right to me and I just scooped it up and started running like crazy. To have something like this happen in rivalry game was just an incredible feeling.”
The play capped what was truly an incredible comeback in a game the Longhorns seemed destined to lose.
From the start, St. Cloud dominated on offense – marching 60 yards on nine plays on its first possession. Although the Bulldogs were successful on the ground, they also got a little luck in the passing game, when Trevill Holcy fumbled a completion on the Longhorn 25, only to see the ball pop up into teammate Matt Chavel’s arms and he advanced to the1-yard line. From there, Brian Steinmetz called his own number for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Harmony took the ensuing kickoff and drove inside the St. Cloud 10-yard line, but on fourth-and-4 from the 9, Jonathan Stewart stopped running back Jose Aguilar one-half yard short of a first down. The Longhorns would be back in business minutes later when a short punt, followed by a 15-yard personal foul set Harmony up at the St. Cloud 20. But Stewart would come through again, forcing a fumble two plays later that was recovered by Marc Aristide.
The Bulldogs would then march 49 yards in 12 plays, only to come up empty when Steinmetz lost a fumble on the Harmony 30-yard-line. After that turnover, neither team could muster an offensive threat and St. Cloud took its 7-0 lead into the locker room at the half.
A muffed handoff early in the third quarter resulted in Harmony getting its first big break of the game. Recovering the fumble on the Bulldog 32, the Longhorns failed to gain positive yardage and were faced with a fourth and 10 when receover Pierce Vermillion tipped a Murray pass away from a St. Cloud defender, caught it and raced into the end zone for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked and St. Cloud held a 7-6 advantage.
A bad break on a decision would once again put Harmony in the hole. After forcing a punt, the Longhorns had possession on their own 40-yard line but elected to take a block-in-the-back penalty on the kicking team and forced a re-punt. Bulldog kicker Andrew Bogaenko then blasted a 61-yard punt to pin Harmony down on its own 14-yard line to flip the field against the Longhorns.
Following a three-and-out, St. Cloud took a short punt and drove down to the Harmony 30-yard line, where Bogaenko’s 47-yard field goal attempt just missed creeping inside the left upright.
One series later, Harmony’s Sawyer Root intercepted a pass in the flat and appeared headed for a sure touchdown, only to stumble and be chased down on the 20-yard line. One play later, St. Cloud recovered an Aguilar fumble to get possession at the 6:02 mark of the fourth quarter.
Three plays later, Laliberte’s play put the Longhorns ahead for good.
“It was a strange game, that’s for sure,” Longhorn Head Coach Jerrad Butler said. “So often in these rivalry games it seems to come down to one or two plays and we were fortunate to make one more play than they did. While we struggled with some offensive issues tonight, our kids played hard and never gave up. Our defense made plays when we needed them.”
Despite out-gaining the Longhorns in total offense (190-131) and first downs (14-8),while limiting the Longhorns to just 40 yards on six second half possessions, St. Cloud lost the turnover battle (5-2) and the game as all 12 Harmony points came off turnovers.