POWELL, Ohio - Things came easy for Rogers in the early moments of its Division II football playoff game against Olentangy Liberty last night. Too easy, in fact.
The Rams ran just five plays in the first quarter, yet had 12 points and a 12-6 lead.
But things got harder for the Rogers offense after that. What was worse, though, was the trouble a young Ram defense had in stopping the Patriots' running game as Liberty claimed a 34-19 victory.
Liberty's 1-2 punch of fullback Ridge Riebold and quarterback Kyle Endicott combined for 356 rushing yards and five touchdowns in exposing a Rogers defense that often had as many as six sophomores on the field.
"We've gone through a lot of adversity and a lot of injuries," Rogers coach Rick Rios said. "The make-up of this defense was completely different than the group that kept three straight teams out of the end zone early in the season.
"I'm proud [of this team] because we were playing so many sophomores on the field, and it showed."
The Rams' Isaiah Ballard gave his team an early burst of energy by recovering a Liberty fumble on the Patriots' 45 fewer than two minutes into the contest. On Rogers' second play from scrimmage the sophomore swept off left tackle and raced 34 yards for a score.
Liberty (10-1) responded with a 10-play, 71-yard scoring drive that included two big pass plays by Endicott and ended with a two-yard scoring blast by Riebold.
But Rogers struck quickly with another long scoring play as Myshan Veasley-Pettis caught a bubble screen pass from Ronney Hester and scampered 53 yards to paydirt.
"We did start off quick, but when we get up we don't want to stay up," Ballard said. "We get too happy and think that it's over. We just needed to stay focused."
The Rams finished the game with 258 yards of total offense, with 131 of those yards coming on those first two drives.
"This is the third or fourth week in a row where we've come out and made things look too easy offensively," Rios said. "You almost don't get a feel for the game because you hit a couple big plays and you're still not sure what you're looking at or what you're looking for."
The Patriots took the lead for good on their next possession, covering 80 yards in 10 plays before Riebold scored the second of his four touchdowns, this one from six yards.
"We didn't panic," Liberty coach Steve Hale said. "We've been in some close games, so we've been in that type of situation. And I'm really glad because our kids have seen some adversity."
Riebold had 111 of his game-high 211 yards in the first half when Liberty ran for 201 yards.
In the second half, Endicott took over, using quarterback bootlegs to gain 86 of his 145 rushing yards.
"We tried so hard to come up with a solution to stop that fullback, and once we put all our energy into that - the quarterback would keep it," Rios said. "We knew their offense went through their fullback, so our game plan was to shut him down early. When we didn't do that, that opened up everything else in their offense."
The Rams, who finish 7-4, lost more than half of their starters on defense since starting City League play seven weeks ago. Among the missing was senior Peris Edwards, who chipped a bone in his hand three weeks ago and had season-ending surgery.
That inexperience was something Hale said his team exploited for 444 yards, including 388 yards on the ground.
"We try to hide the football, and it makes a defense have to be really disciplined and read their keys," he said. "Tonight our kids executed it really well."
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