Cover photo: Len Lehmann. More photos: @TheNotoriousLEN
Park Hill certainly had Friday’s matchup at Liberty circled on their calendar, after Liberty defeated the Trojans twice in 2018.
Now the Trojans got one back with an with a 21-10 at HyVee Field at LHS.
After holding Park Hill to a three-and-out on their first offensive possession, Liberty drove 50 yards in 13 plays and took an early 3-0 lead following a 23-yard field goal from Alex Rottjakob. From there, the Trojans delivered a dominant defensive outing led by James Gore and Iowa State commit Johnny Wilson. The two wreaked havoc all night on Blue Jays quarterback Luke Smith, accounting for multiple sacks and a forced fumble. They also brought Liberty’s rushing attack to a halt, holding Wentric Williams III to far less than the 129 yards he had in a Week One win at Lee’s Summit
“Those guys give great effort in practice. They’ve done a great job at getting prepared on a weekly basis,” said Park Hill head coach Josh Hood. “It’s fun to go out here and them actually get a chance to react and play somebody else. We don’t let them hit each other (during practice), so they like to come out here and have fun.”
Meanwhile, junior quarterback Anthony Hall and receiver Jaylin Noel resumed right where they left off last week, connecting for two touchdown passes as part of a 21-0 Trojans run to finish the first half. Their 78-yard score following Liberty’s field goal gave them a lead that they’d never relinquish, an impressive turnaround following their first-drive struggles.
“After the first drive… we saw what they ran, we saw what we wanted to do,” said Noel, who’s quickly becoming one of the top deep threats in the Metro area. “We connected on that pass and we got it rolling from there.”
What made Hall’s performance even more impressive is that Friday night’s game was only the second start of his varsity career. The junior signal caller is now 2-0 as a starter, with four passing touchdowns through two games. Noel believes that it’s a culmination of all the work Hall has put in while with the program, dating back to his freshman year.
“He came in, he’s been with us all summer, all three years learning the plays, and he came and took over,” he said. “He’s been a really good quarterback for us.”
“The kids reacted and came back,” Hood added. “It was a bad first series on both sides of the ball probably, but we got back, got the energy back in our hands, and the defense took over.”
Part of that energy came from a blocked punt by Darion Neal midway through the first quarter, which proved to be a huge momentum swing. Two plays later, Eric Carey took advantage of the excellent field position and scored on a 13-yard rushing touchdown to make it 14-3. Carey and Neal added a strong balance to the backfield, wearing down the Blue Jays’ defense with multiple rushing attempts at a time. This set up many big plays by the Trojans that included either the run-pass option or play action.
While both teams exchanged stalled drives and turnovers in the second half, Liberty attempted to make a late rally when Smith found Caleb Cahill for an 11-yard touchdown pass with 1:12 remaining in the game. They proceeded to recover an onside kick, but a fumble recovery by Park Hill’s Antonio McCullough the next play would make their best start in two years official.
“We just got to continue the momentum and go into week three,” said Hood. “Every week’s going to be a battle, every week’s going to be a Super Bowl for us with this schedule... We have to pat ourselves on the back tonight and wake up the next morning and get ready for Liberty North.”
While Park Hill (2-0) will return to Liberty next Friday to face Liberty North, Liberty (1-1) travels to Independence to take on Truman.