Liberty coach Mark Workman knows how bad things can truly get, so he's learned to appreciate every victory. For that reason, he doesn't label one win bigger than another.
But what happened Friday night was easily the biggest moment of his Liberty career.
The Raiders spotted county rival Independence a 12-0 lead before reeling off 36 straight points and going on to win 36-26 in a battle of rated teams at George D. Covey Field in Coal City.
A week after shutting out then-Class AA No. 5 Clay County, Liberty (5-0) claimed its first possession of the Battle of '76 trophy, introduced by Pioneer Community Bank in 2018. Pioneer has branches in both communities and wanted to spotlight the game between schools separated by just 13 miles.
The game wasn't even on the schedule this time a week ago. Liberty was supposed to go to Wayne and Independence was set to host Summers County, but both of those schools had to cancel due to their status on the Covid-19 metrics color map. The Battle of '76 was then made official on Sunday.
The Raiders, tied for fourth in the Class AA ratings this week, matched their win total of the last three seasons combined.
"To be honest, in my mind they're all statement games for us, because we were 5-25 coming in to this year," Workman said. "So every win is huge for these kids. We beat a good Independence team that was ranked No. 12. I tell my team every week — contenders or pretenders, guys? What are we? Right now we're working to be contenders. I don't want to call it contending yet, but we're working that way."
They're making believers with each passing week.
Against the Patriots (3-2), Liberty put its defense on display. The Raiders intercepted Independence quarterback Isaiah Duncan three times — Shawn Pennington had two picks for the second consecutive week — and were effective against running back Atticus Goodson. The 6-foot-1, 218-pound junior gained 116 hard-earned yards on 29 carries.
Stopping Goodson was an obvious focal point for the Raiders, and it cost them early. Duncan took advantage for a couple of long touchdown passes.
Duncan went deep to freshman Trey Bowers for a 45-yard touchdown halfway through the first quarter. On the first play of the Patriots' next drive, Duncan dumped off to Cyrus Goodson, who turned around to find open field and ran 59 yards for another touchdown.
"We were concentrated on stopping Atticus and we gave up two big home run plays," Workman said. "They're a good football team and they've got some weapons themselves."
Indy led by 12 and seemed settled in. That ended quickly when Logan Dodrill — who would be a force all night — took the ensuing kickoff and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown to get Liberty on the board with 3:45 left in the first quarter.
It was the start of a big night for Dodrill and the point where the Raiders seized the momentum. They forced the Patriots into a turnover on downs on their next drive, setting up Dodrill's 7-yard TD run that put Liberty ahead to stay at 14-12 less than a minute into the second quarter.
"We made a mental mistake down there and it could have been 19, 21 to nothing, and I think it would have been different," Independence coach John H. Lilly said. "It is what it is."
Liberty was plainly in control from there. The Patriots' next four drives ended via interception, punt, punt and interception. Liberty scored twice in that span, on TD passes by quarterback Isaac Atkins — 15 yards to Trey Tabor and 88 to Dodrill — to stretch the lead to 29-12 at the break.
Liberty's final touchdown was a 35-yard interception return by Dodrill, giving him touchdowns in four different ways. He also kicked four extra points.
"Logan's a very good athlete," Workman said. "I stay on Logan about being that guy and, 'Your time's coming.' Tonight was his time."
Independence had its chances to get back in the game, the biggest coming early in the fourth quarter after finally getting back on the board with a 2-yard run by Goodson.
The Raiders fumbled on a punt return and the Patriots' Cohen Miller recovered and advanced the ball into Liberty territory. The Patriots got to the 10-yard line, looking to possibly score and make it a one-possession game with more than 10 minutes to play. Instead, a loose ball on a high snap was recovered by Liberty's Colton Williams to end the threat.
The Patriots got within 10 on Goodson's 68-yard touchdown reception, but the turnovers proved too costly.
"The same thing killed us last week," Lilly said, referring to a 50-24 loss at Petersburg. "We've got a good football team. We're real young. You can't turn over the ball against a good football team. We're a good football team, but we've still got some learning to do. That was a senior team against a sophomore team."
Workman said there is room for improvement on his team as well.
"We gave up some big plays," he said. "Offensively, we didn't score much in the second half. ... We had opportunities, we just couldn't punch it in. That's the aspect we've got to get better in. When we're inside the red zone, we've got to score."
Liberty is scheduled to host Westside next Friday, Oct. 9, while Independence is set to host Midland Trail in the annual Patriot Bowl.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber
L (5-0) 7 22 7 0 — 36
I (3-2) 12 0 8 6 — 26
I: Trey Bowers 45 pass from Isaiah Duncan (kick failed), 6:54.
I: Cyrus Goodson 59 pass from Duncan (run failed), 3:51.
L: Logan Dodrill 79 kickoff return (Dodrill kick), 3:45.
L: Dodrill 7 run (Dodrill kick), 11:34.
L: Trey Tabor 15 pass from Isaac Atkins (Dodrill kick), 5:53.
L: Dodrill 88 pass from Atkins (Braden Howell run), 2:55.
L: Dodrill 35 interception return (Dodrill kick), 7:18.
I: Atticus Goodson 2 run (Duncan run), 2:57.
I: Goodson 68 pass from Duncan (run failed), 6:17.