The Tigers, who posted four shutouts during an undefeated regular season, never got on track last night against Marion Pleasant and ended up falling 24-0 in the Division V regional championship game at Donnell Stadium.
The Spartans (13-0) kept their season alive with an impressive defensive effort. They forced the Tigers (12-1) into six turnovers (four fumbles, two interceptions) and held them to minus-10 yards after halftime.
“They were a great team,” Liberty Center coach Rex Lingruen said. “I don't want to take anything away from them, but I still wouldn't trade my team for anything.”
The loss didn't dampen what the Tigers accomplished this fall.
“The bottom line is we had a great season,” Lingruen said. “We had a lot of fun this season.”
Liberty Center running back Dustin Salmi, one of 12 seniors on the Tigers roster, finished with a team-high 30 yards on 12 carries as Marion Pleasant limited the Tigers to 56 rushing yards.
“They were just a great team,” Salmi said. “They were deserving to win this game.
“It was just something about them that we couldn't stop.”
Liberty Center quarterback Tim Myers completed only 3 of 17 passes for 69 yards and was intercepted twice. He also finished with minus-2 yards rushing on a night when Spartan defenders, led by Jake Bennett, Preston Field and Luke Bennett, were consistently in his face while he was trying to set up to pass.
“They had really good pass coverage,” Myers said. “They're just a very good football team.”
Marion Pleasant quarterback Scott Jefferies completed only 5 of 19 passes for 69 yards. However, he scored on a 15-yard run during the second half when Marion Pleasant outscored Liberty Center 17-0. The 6-4, 215-pounder also picked off his first pass of the season on defense.
“We just stepped it up and really got it going in the second half,” Jefferies said.
Neither team produced much offense. A scoreless first quarter provided an early indication that the game between two unbeatens would come down to which team performed best on defense.
Marion Pleasant produced only three first downs in the first half, yet the Spartans were able to go into halftime with a 7-0 lead. The Spartans gained two of their first-half first downs during their scoring drive.
Taking advantage of good field position, the Spartans used eight plays to march 39 yards for the first score. Six of Marion Pleasant's drives started in Liberty Center territory.
Jefferies accounted for 25 yards on the drive. However, backup quarterback J.R. Cleveland would step in and finish off the drive after Jefferies had to leave the game momentarily. Cleveland connected with Adam Hessler for a two-yard touchdown pass with 7:24 remaining in the half.
Jefferies had to leave the game momentarily with a sore right shoulder after getting slammed to the ground on the previous play.
Jefferies returned to the field and played a key role in the Spartans pulling away in the second half. He put Marion ahead 14-0 with his 15-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter.
Marion Pleasant kicker Shawn Galloway made it 17-0, after an LC turnover, when he kicked a 20-yard field goal with just about nine minutes left in the game.
Jake Bennett set up the final score when he came up with an interception. Justin Williams scored on a 10-yard run with less than three minutes to play.