Liberty focuses on Buchtel



For the third straight week, the unbeaten Leopards are considered the underdog.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
LIBERTY -- Coach Jeff Whittaker and the Liberty High football team rode home last Friday night in complete silence after the Leopards' 17-14 Division II regional semifinal victory over Mentor Lake Catholic.
"You could have heard a pin drop," Whittaker said. "They were completely exhausted, they left it all out on the field and they really didn't have anything left to celebrate on the ride home."
Friday, the fifth-seeded Leopards (12-0) move into the regional championship game against No. 3 seed Akron Buchtel (10-2) at Gilcrest Field in Ravenna Stadium. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
Whittaker, who is in his 11th season as coach of the Leopards with a 69-42 record, knows that his team is going to need another outstanding effort against Buchtel.
For the third straight week the Leopards will be considered the underdog, but Whittaker said his team has gotten used to that.
Everybody is good
"Buchtel is a good football team, but then when you get down to the final eight teams in the division everybody is good," he said.
"They are fundamentally sound, well-coached and have good speed," he added. "Their quarterback is a threat every time he touches the football.
"It kind of sounds like our scouting report from last week's game against Lake Catholic," he kidded.
Liberty has won 12 straight games, the most wins in a single season in the school's history, bettering last year's team that finished 11-2 and lost in the regional final to eventual state champion Cardinal Mooney when the Leopards competed in Division IV.
Buchtel also has some impressive wins, including a victory over Division I Warren Harding, 18-10, while the two losses were against unbeaten Steubenville, 17-14, and Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit, 28-21.
"They are a good football team and yes we are again the underdog, but you never really know just how good a team is until you play against them," Whittaker said.
Whittaker has really enjoyed this season and working with what he called a great group of kids.
"The one thing that has really made the difference this season is these kids just have unselfish hearts," he said.
Keys to victory
He said that the keys going into this game are to continue to play the way they have been all season long, but to do a better job with the little things.
"We can't afford to have any mental mistakes, like costly penalties," he added, "and we have to avoid the turnovers."
Last week the Leopards lost two fumbles early in the game against Lake Catholic, one of them leading to the Cougars' first touchdown.
"We can't beat ourselves," said Whittaker.
The Leopards will again be playing on an artificial sprint-turf surface at Ravenna and Whittaker likes it.
"At this time of the year you want to be playing on artificial turf and not slopping around in the mud," he said.
"I prefer this surface to the old Astroturf, but in the fall there is nothing like playing on natural grass," he said.
mollica@vindy.com

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