Oct 16, 2006 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Players and fans were scattered all over the field in wild celebration. The head coach got a Gatorade bath. TV cameras captured the whole wonderful scene.
No, the Liverpool football team had not won a championship. But by pulling out a 43-37, double-overtime decision over Corcoran last Friday night, the Warriors captured its sixth game in a row and won the right to open the Section III Class AA playoffs at home — something no one could have imagined a couple of a months ago.
“These kids have exceeded my expectations for them,” said head coach Dave Mancuso. “I’m shocked by the way they played tonight, and proud of them.”
Four different times, Liverpool trailed the Cougars. Every time, it rallied, producing one of the most memorable victories in the program’s storied history.
From the opening kickoff, to the moment Darnell Sapps was ruled out of bounds at the end of the second OT period more than three hours later, the outcome was in doubt, sending fans on both sides on an emotional roller coaster.
Along the way, the Warriors absorbed all kinds of blows. In the first half, it saw a T.J. Davis punt return for a touchdown called back for a questionable holding penalty, then watched Laquan Rouse return a fumble 90 yards for a TD to give the Cougars a 14-7 lead.
Liverpool kept shaking off the challenges, though, and drew even, 14-14, when Mike Buckenmeyer found a wide-open Mike Suatoni on an 11-yard TD pass just 46 seconds before halftime.
Sapps threatned to take over in the third quarter. He got open behind the Liverpool secondary and caught Darin Hickson’s pass for a 45-yard TD in the third quarter to put Corcoran back in front. Then, following a Buckenmeyer interception, Sapps went 39 yards on another long play to set up a TD that made it 28-14.
Seeing the game slip away, Davis did something about it. He told Lonnie Johnson that he would get the ensuing kickoff, then backed up his words by finding a hole on the left side, and outrunning every Corcoran player to the end zone, a 79-yard play that turned the entire game around.
“He was calling for it,” said Johnson. “He’s the fastest guy on our team, and we knew he could go all the way.”
Mancuso agreed. “T.J. stepped up when he needed to,” the coach said. “We need those heroes, and he answered the call of duty.”
Johnson and his defensive mates would do the same. Early in the fourth quarter, they made a fourth-down stop at their own 40, as Cody Latimer and Dom Caruso broke up a pass intended for Sapps.
Liverpool turned this into a 60-yard drive. Accounting for most of it, Johnson, who had 39 carries for 175 yards, ran right through the Cougars’ defense stacked to stop him. When Johnson scored on a one-yard dive with 3:59 left in regulation, the Warriors’ third comeback was complete and it was 28-28.
Again, Corcoran marched into Warrior territory. Again, it found resistance and faced a fourth down, this time on the 35-yard line. Again, Liverpool would make the big stop, Latimer speeding to tackle Rouse for a loss.
This sent the game to overtime, where each team gets a possession on the opponents’ 20-yard line. Going first, the Cougars easily scored against the Warriors’ tired defense, Hickson hitting Sapps on both the five-yard TD pass and two-point play.
Now down 36-28, Liverpool had to answer. It took just three plays to do so, as Johnson scored from the two-yard line, but now the Warriors needed to make the two-point conversion, or it would be over.
After two time-outs to discuss it, the Warriors went to the man it had gone to all season. Johnson took the toss to the right and out-raced the Corcoran defenders to the end zone. At 36-36, it went to double overtime.
Now it was Liverpool’s turn to go first. Again, Johnson would finish it off, going six yards for his fourth TD of the night. Ryan Argy was roughed on the extra point, forcing Corcoran to go back to the 35-yard line as now the hosts had to score.
Quickly, the Cougars got to the four-yard line, but Ulysses Martin lost yards on second down, and the third-down pass fell incomplete.
It was fourth-and-goal, and a stop here would end it. Hickson looked for Sapps, and found him in the end zone — but Sapps caught the ball a foot out of bounds. Once that was signaled, Liverpool’s celebration began.
A day later, the team found out that it would face Utica Proctor (5-2) in the first round of the Class AA playoffs Friday at Warrior Stadium at 7 p.m. Proctor’s highly-skilled lineup includes wide receiver Deandre Preaster, a two-sport star being looked at by Division I schools.
If Liverpool wins, it will battle Rome Free Academy or Cicero-North Syracuse in next weekend’s AA semifinals. But regardless of what happens, Liverpool has already provided a full slate of memories to its fans, capped by its courageous victory at Corcoran.