Bulldogs rally past Liberty
By J. Daniel Pearson
For the News-Gazette
After watching his team fall behind 14-0 to Liberty after three first-half turnovers, St. Cloud football coach Bryan Smart said he there was little panic on his sideline.
“We kept shooting ourselves in the foot in the first half, but I knew if our offense could give us anything at all our defense would keep us in the game,” Smart said.
Smart’s evaluation proved spot on, as St. Cloud (3-6, 2-3) rallied for 27 unanswered points to record a 27-14 win against Chargers (2-7, 1-5) Friday at Gannarelli Field.
After a lackluster first quarter that saw both teams struggle to move the ball, the Chargers grabbed a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter by driving 76 yards on eight plays. A 34-yard pass from freshman Patrick Knight to senior Markel Brown set up a 9-yard touchdown run by Steven Phillips.
Later in the quarter, Liberty’s Kyle Sharman intercepted in the end zone and returned it 87 yards to the St. Cloud 19. One play later, Phillips ran untouched up the middle to make it a 14-0 game.
But, the Bulldogs rallied right before halftime. Taking over with just four minutes to go, St. Cloud drove 65 yards on six plays. Ian Rinehart completed four of five passes on the drive and the Bulldogs took advantage of 20 yards in penalties to reach the Liberty 25-yard line. Andre Carrasquillo then ripped off a 23-yard run and Steinmetz bulled over from the 2 with just three seconds to go to make it a 14-7 game at halftime.
The Bulldogs tied it in the third quarter on a 71-yard drive capped by another 2-yard run by Steinmetz.
The Chargers appeared to have come up with a stop on an interception on a third and 19 play, but Liberty was called for a roughing the passer penalty on the play. The infraction gave the ball back to St. Cloud with an automatic first down.
With Liberty driving for a potential go-ahead score, Danny Rincon stepped in front of a McKnight pass and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the night, 21-14.
On the ensuing kickoff, Liberty got a nice return from Brown and picked up a quick first down to set itself up at midfield. But, on a first and 10 play from the Bulldog 44, St. Cloud’s Rhett Howard picked up a fumble and raced 55 yards for a touchdown at 7:49 mark of the fourth period to give the Dogs a 13-point lead.
Rincon would add a second interception at the end of the game to seal the victory.
“Our defense has been bailing us out all year,” Smart said. “We’ve had a lot of injuries this year, but there was no quit in these kids all season. Obviously we have a huge test next week on the road at Osceola, but I am so happy for our seniors to get a win in their last home game.”
Statistically, the game was close to a draw. Both teams turned the ball over three times. Liberty held a narrow 251-230 lead in total yards and both teams had 13 first downs. But, the turnovers were the key, as St. Cloud scored 13 points off turnovers, while Liberty managed just seven off their three takeaways.
McKnight, who completed five of 21 passes for 99 yards, drew the praise of Smart. “For a freshman, that young man has a really good arm,” Smart said. “I can honestly say that I am not looking forward to having to find a way to defense him the next three years.”