In Mountain Grove, the Liberty Eagles avenged a loss to the Panthers earlier in the season with a 21-7 victory to claim the Class 2, District 3 title. Mountain Grove had defeated Liberty 27-20 in Week 6, on its way to an 11-0 record. The Eagles came into the night’s contest with a 9-2 record.
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The game would start off with the Panthers putting together a long opening drive, taking nearly seven minutes off the clock, but they would turn the ball over on downs inside the Liberty 30 yard line. Liberty would take only three plays to score its first touchdown, as Jaelon Acklin found James Denton for a 57 yard touchdown strike. With the extra point, the Eagles held a 7-0 lead.
Midway through the second quarter, Acklin would again connect with Denton for a big play, this time a screen pass that Denton would take 85 yards for Liberty’s second touchdown. Following the extra point, the Eagles held a 14-0 lead.
Mountain Grove would respond, once again putting together a long drive lasting over six minutes. With 56 seconds remaining in the half, Gavin Bolin would carry the ball in from 11 yards out to give the Panthers their first touchdown of the game. With a successful extra point, Mountain Grove cut the Eagles lead to 14-7.
The Panthers would recover an onside kick following the touchdown. From there, Mountain Grove would be able to move the football to the Liberty 19. With 10 seconds remaining before the half, Panther quarterback Bobby Otwell’s pass would be tipped in the end zone and intercepted by Acklin, who would return the football into Panther territory before being stopped with no time remaining.
After rushing for over 400 yards last week against Strafford, Liberty used the passing game the majority of the time in the first half. The Eagles attempted only five run plays in the first half, good for ten yards.
“We felt we had to call the game to win the game,” said Liberty coach Darin Acklin. “We threw the ball more tonight than we have all year. I felt if we had an advantage that might be it”.
Both defenses came out in the second half playing as well, if not better, than they did in the first half, as neither team was able to put together a sustained drive.
Late in the third quarter following a Liberty punt, Mountain Grove running back Tyler Collins would break free for a 48-yard run to put the Panthers on the Liberty 28. But the play would be called back due to holding. From there on out, penalties would continue to haunt the Panthers. Mountain Grove would then pick up two consecutive false start penalties and be forced to punt.
Liberty would start its opening drive in the fourth quarter with excellent field position from the Panther 30. Once again going to the air, the Eagles would set up a 15-yard touchdown pass from Acklin to Austin Smotherman to take a 21-7 lead.
Both teams would exchange punts before Mountain Grove would put together a drive late in the fourth. Facing 4th and 2 from the Liberty 9 yard line with just over four minutes remaining, the Panthers would once again be flagged for a false start. The penalty was Mountain Grove‘s eleventh of the game and eighth in the second half. The Panthers would attempt a pass but it would fall incomplete.
Liberty would be unable to move the football and Mountain Grove would take over but again a penalty would kill a Panther drive, forcing an incomplete pass on 4th and long.
Liberty would take over and run out the clock to secure the victory.
“The kids played exceptionally well,” said coach Acklin. “To give up just seven points to Mountain Grove is a heck of an accomplishment. I felt we had to execute better than we did the first game against Mountain Grove and I felt we did that”.
The passing game for Liberty was the focal point, as Eagles quarterback Jaelon Acklin finished 14 of 25 for 282 yards and three touchdowns. James Denton led the receiving core with 217 yards and two touchdowns. The Liberty defense held Mountain Grove to 221 yards of offense, their lowest total of the season.
Gavin Bolin led the Panther with 80 yards rushing. Bobby Otwell added 73 yards.
The Panther defense did hold Liberty to their lowest rushing total of the season, as the Eagles were only able to amass 64 yards on the ground.
The victory for Liberty sets up yet another match up with Lamar in the playoffs. The Eagles have had their season come to an end at the hands of the Tigers the last two seasons.
“Lamar is very physical in the box,” said coach Acklin. “All these kids played against them last season, and they know what is coming from Lamar. We’ve got some kids healthy but it’s going to be a very tough task.”
Liberty will host Lamar in the quarterfinals on Saturday.