By Stephen Bubalo PrepsKC staff writer
Liberty head coach Chad Frigon helped lead his Blue Jays to the school’s first playoff win in 10-plus years Friday night with a 25-16 win over Blue Springs South.
His reward? An ice bath on what happened to be the coldest night of the season.
It’s OK, though – it was well worth it.
With the new Missouri playoff system in place in which every team gets a postseason game and the regular season determines your district seed, rematches were bound to occur. It just so happened the Blue Jays and Jaguars played just last week – a 13-7 Liberty win – so it brought an interesting dynamic to the game, but it was an opportunity the Blue Jays were relishing.
“We haven’t beat Blue Springs South in a while, so to beat them in back-to-back weeks and then to do it on our home field in front of our crowd was great,” Blue Jays senior Eric Greely Jr. said.
Added Frigon, “We looked at the film of last week’s game and the staff decided we didn’t play that well on special teams or on offense. We just decided to stick with what we were doing. We focused on ourselves.”
And it paid off, as the offense had a pair of big plays and the special teams accounted for 13 points thanks to a Matthew Zombo kickoff return for a score to begin the game and two field goals from Andrew Fishel.
The Blue Jays jumped on the Jaguars quickly, needing just half of the opening quarter to go ahead 13-0. Zombo’s return got things started and a reverse to Greely Jr. on fourth down accounted for the second score, as he found the end zone from 14 yards out.
“We’ve practiced that play all year but that’s the first time we’ve run it,” Frigon said.
“We had that play in our back pocket,” Greely Jr. added.
But South wouldn’t go quietly, and thanks to a pair of touchdown runs from Khorey Kilgore of 45 and 39 yards, respectively, the Jaguars went into halftime with some momentum and a 14-13 lead.
The Jaguars hoped to ride that wave when the second half started but quickly gave the ball right back to the Blue Jays.
“We knew we got the ball to start the second half but we came out and had a three-and-out,” South head coach Greg Oder said. “It’s just being inconsistent. We never got into a rhythm (on offense).”
Liberty capitalized, needing just six plays to go 71 yards, as Zombo capped the drive with a 27-yard touchdown run to put the Blue Jays up for good, 19-14.
“I just ran to the outside and then they took the angles to the middle,” Zombo said of the play. “There was good blocking. I tripped over my wide receiver but just tried to keep my balance.”
With the lead in hand, Liberty’s defense would do the rest.
In the second half the Blue Jays defense was dominant, forcing a turnover – a Zombo interception – and allowing just one first down, which came on South’s final drive of the game.
“Our defense is on a nice roll right now,” Frigon said. “We’ve been able to get pressure up front and we have some depth. We’re able to rotate some guys in.”
Greely Jr. said the late-season pressure has brought out the best in the defense.
“I think it’s the fact that we know what’s at stake,” he said. “The past two weeks we’ve ended the game with a big defensive stop.”
The loss wrapped up a 5-5 season for the Jaguars, the defending Class 6 state champions. A big graduation hit and a difficult schedule made for a tough season, especially after a 4-2 start.
“I think we got better,” Oder said. “There are a lot of good teams on our schedule. You can have a good team and not have a great record. We always played hard. That was never a problem.”
Liberty assured itself of a better-than-.500 record with the win, as they sit at 6-4 and will now prepare for another rematch, this time with second-ranked Blue Springs.
The Wildcats dealt the Blue Jays a 50-22 loss in week five of the season, but the players know what happened then won’t matter come next Friday.
“There are no expectations for us,” junior offensive lineman Jacob Francis said of being the underdog. “We’re just going to go play the game and try and shock the world.”
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