It’s Liberty again, 56-26
Chargers remain perfect in the series
By J. Daniel Pearson
For the News-Gazette
Liberty senior Markel Brown saved the best football game of his high school career for the last, scoring a career-high five touchdowns, to lead the Chargers to a 56-26 win over the Poinciana Eagles in the seventh Battle of Boulevard Friday at Chargers field.
Liberty has won all seven games in the rivalry.
“Although we didn’t have the season we were hoping for, I quickly understood how important this week was for our kids,” Chargers Head Coach Cory Johns said. “We had a lot of excitement around school all week and our kids put forth a great effort in practices. In retrospect, I wish we would have played with this same effort all season, because I think we could have finished at 7-3 instead of 3-7.”
Poinciana, which finished the season with two losses, dropped to 4-6.
“As was the case last week (in a loss to Auburndale), we didn’t execute well enough to win,” Eagles Coach Jeff Mathis said. “We made some mistakes with dropped balls and missing open receivers in the first half, and then we didn’t do anything to stop Liberty’s offense. The second half was a different story. We made some adjustments and played even with them, but we had dug ourselves too deep of a hole.”
On a night when Liberty got huge performances from several players, none stood out more than Brown, a two-time qualifier in the jumps at the state track meet. He caught touchdown passes of 12, 69 and 9 yards in the first half and also returned a kickoff 65 yards for a touchdown. In the second half, he added a 65-yard punt return for his fifth score.
The senior WR/DB tallied six catches for 100 yards and added three returns for 140 yards to account for 240 all-purpose yards.
“Markel has been a stud for us all season,” Johns said. “He is definitely a player who is going to be missed next year.”
In addition to Markel’s four first-half scores, Justin Winkler had a 73-yard touchdown run in the first half. Kyle Sharman and Jacob Rodriguez had 5-yard scoring runs as Liberty piled up 49 first-half points.
Two of those touchdowns were set up by interceptions, including a brilliant tip and catch of a screen pass by Naiheem Charlin on Poinciana’s first possession of the game after the Chargers had driven 48-yards on six plays to take a 7-0 lead.
After Charlin’s interception, Rodriguez scored on the next play to make it 14-0.
“No question that was the huge play of the game,” Mathis said. “The screen was open for a huge gain or possibly a score and we simply failed to get the pass over the lineman’s head.”
On the first play of Poinciana’s next possession, Chantoni Grant picked off Jonathan Lindstrom to set up Patrick Knight’s first touchdown pass to Brown.
Trailing 21-0, the Eagles got a 60-yard kickoff return from Aaron Meade to set up Poinciana at the Charger 20-yard-line. Four plays later, running back Gabriel Sosa recovered a fumble and rumbled 10 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-6. But Brown returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown to up the lead to 28-6.
The Chargers would get another quick stop and this time Knight unleashed a long pass down the middle that Brown took out of a defender’s hands and raced 69 yards for a score.
After starting the game 0-for-6 with two interceptions, Lindstorm completed a deep ball to Joshua Lopez, who broke three tackles and carried two defenders the final 12 yards into the end zone for a 69-yard touchdown that closed the gap to 35-14.
Brown’s fourth touchdown of the night, a 9-yard scoring pass where he tipped the ball to himself and gained control before falling out of bounds, made it 42-14. Lindstrom would answer with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Lopez to make it a 42-20 game, but Liberty’s Justin Winkler broke free for his 73-yard TD run on the Chargers next possession to make it 49-20 at half.
Following the first half fireworks that saw 69 total points scored, both teams could manage just one touchdown each in the second half. Liberty’s touchdown came on Brown’s punt return, while Poinciana’s came on Lindstrom’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Taron Mallard midway through the fourth quarter.
Liberty led in total yardage, 360-280. Lindstrom completed 8 of 33 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns. Lopez had four catches for 175 yards and two scores.
Lindstrom finished the season with 2,019 passing yards and 19 touchdown passes, second in school history to David Tabor’s 2,293 yards and 20 TD passes in 1999.
Knight, just a freshman, completed eight of 17 passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns.
Both coaches were looking forward to the 2014 season.
“Patrick Knight has a chance to be a great quarterback,” Johns said. “He has a lot of athletic ability and we are going to have a full off-season to work with him. We have also started to change the culture around campus. We’re going to get our weight training program to where it needs to be.”
Mathis said that this was a turnaround season for Poinciana, which won more games this year than it has over the past three seasons combined.
“I think we opened some eyes in the county this year,” Mathis said. “I think other teams knowthat Poinciana intends to play hard every game. Now it is a matter of hitting the halls and convincing some kids to join us as we build this program.”
Rick Pedone contributed to this story.