GRAFTON—When the Liberty Mountaineers’ and Grafton Bearcats’ football teams face off on the gridiron you can be fairly certain of two things. First, it’s going to be a dogfight, and second, it probably isn’t going to be pretty. That was the definitely the case Friday night at McKinney Field as Grafton hosted Liberty in a clash of Big 10 teams who now seem to be headed in opposite directions.
First there was Grafton, who was coming off a bye week and looking for a solid win after disappointing losses to East Fairmont and Lincoln in their previous two games, and Liberty, who had won three of their first four games to begin the season and was looking to spring into the Top 16 of AA with a win.
And in an oddly frustrating game in which the Bearcats squandered multiple chances to extend the 3-0 which they held over the course of three quarters, Liberty used a solid 4th quarter to erase the small halftime deficit Grafton had built to advance past the Bearcats by the score of 12-3.
“We couldn’t find anything offensively, formation-wise, scheme-wise, no matter how many backs we used,” said Grafton head coach Rich Bord. “It’s frustrating because it puts you into a position that when you have to throw, they bring heat and that forced us to switch to a more mobile quarterback.”
Bord was referring to sophomore quarterback Tanner Moats, who has been splitting time with senior Logan Beltner this season.
“Tanner did a nice job tonight but he wasn’t able to step up into the pocket because he was running for his life,” said a frustrated Bord.
To begin the contest, Grafton would win the coin toss and elected to defer until the second half. Grafton would kick off and on Liberty’s very first drive of the game, freshman Arron Barker blocked a Liberty punt on fourth down. The Bearcats’ Sam Mazzie returned the block to the GHS 42 but that drive would ultimately result in a punt by GHS senior kicker Joey Dingeldein. After the teams traded possessions again, the 1st quarter would come to an end with neither team getting on the board.
In the 2nd quarter, the teams would again trade possessions until Dingeldein would get the Bearcats on the scoreboard with a 36-yard field goal with 1:35 left in the 2nd quarter to put the Bearcats ahead 3-0 going into halftime.
Grafton would start their first series of the 3rd quarter from their own 16-yard line. A mix of rushes by Grafton running backs James Hoskins and Devin Vanscoy would help Grafton in moving the ball down the field, but ultimately the Bearcats would turn the ball over on downs. Liberty would then fumble on the next possession and the teams would trade possessions heading into the 4th quarter with the Bearcats still clinging onto their 3-0 lead.
After the Mountaineers returned a Dingeldein punt to the Grafton 31-yard line, a 17-yard screen pass by Liberty quarterback Noah Leggett to running back Seth McIntire would move the ball deep into Grafton territory. A pass interference was called on the Bearcats on the very next play and would take the Mountaineers eventually to the Grafton 1-yard line. A QB sneak by Leggett and a missed extra point would give Liberty the lead, 6-3.
Grafton would bring sophomore quarterback Tanner Moats into the game in an attempt to move the ball down the field in a short amount of time with a combination of running and throwing but constant pressure by the Mountaineers would force Moats to scramble often, sometimes completing passes and sometimes not.
With 5:32 left in the 4th quarter, Dwayne Buckhannon of the Mountaineers was able to put Liberty up by nine point as he punched it in from four yards out to give his team a 12-3 before a two-point conversion by Liberty was unsuccessful. Buckhannon led the Mountaineers with 71 yards on 15 carries in their come-from-behind victory.
For Grafton, James Hoskins led the Bearcats’ ground attack with 59 yards on 20 carries while Moats was credited with 83 yards passing in the contest.
“It was nice to see our kids show character with their backs against the wall and get out of there with a win, even if it wasn’t always pretty,” said Liberty head coach A.J. Harman. Our defense played very well (limiting Grafton to 138 total yards and no touchdowns) and we were able to adjust at halftime and get our run game going in the second half. We knew Grafton was a lot better than their record shows. They have a good young team and it’s always a dogfight with them. My hat’s off to their players and staff for the tremendous heart they displayed for 48 minutes.”
The win moves Liberty to 4-1 on the season while Grafton drops to 1-4 overall.
When Bord was asked where the Bearcats go from here as they host Northern Garrett (MD) (3-1) on Friday, the long-time coach expressed, “we’re scratching our heads right now and heading back to square one. The kids laid it all on the line, we just didn’t execute.”