ARGYLE — As the sun was setting behind the bleachers at Liberty Christian on Tuesday evening, the Warriors finished practice with their final drill of the day.
The players stood in one long line, taking turns running up the hill by the fieldhouse.
When the team finished the day’s last task, it closed with one final cheer: “Beat St. Michael’s.”
For the third time in four years, Liberty will square off against Austin St. Michael’s Catholic in the postseason. The TAPPS Class 5A state quarterfinal will be played at Waco ISD Stadium at 7:30 tonight.
If Liberty can get past St. Michael’s (8-2), it’ll be the furthest the Warriors have traveled in the playoffs since moving up to 5A in 2010.
“The fact that we’ve lost both times before, our kids know the impact that this team has had on our schedule in the past, and it’s been the basketball season two times,” Liberty coach Greg Price said. “Our kids are pretty fired up about the matchup.”
The Warriors (8-3) earned a third matchup against the Crusaders with a 52-6 drubbing of San Antonio Central Catholic last weekend.
Today will be the first time during the four-year span that the game will be played at a neutral site.
With a victory, Liberty could face either Houston St. Thomas (10-0) or Fort Worth Nolan Catholic (7-4). Plano Prestonwood (10-1) and Addison Trinity Christian (8-3) still loom as possible foes in the state championship game.
But first the Warriors have to figure out how to beat St. Michael’s. The two previous times the teams met, it seemed Liberty had accomplished that task.
In 2010, the teams met in the first round of the playoffs and Liberty led 49-42 in overtime. St. Michael’s scored, and Liberty was flagged for roughing the kicker on the point-after attempt. The ball was moved closer to the goal line, and St. Michael’s sent its offense onto the field and scored a two-point conversion to win 50-49.
In a blustery affair in 2011, St. Michael’s scored late in the fourth quarter and Liberty couldn’t drive down the field against the Crusaders and the wind in a 21-14 loss.
Liberty senior running back JonAaron Howell said it was the worst loss he’s experienced. Along with Nolan and Prestonwood, St. Michael’s is on the list of teams Howell said he wants to beat before he graduates. Liberty’s seniors have never defeated those three teams in high school.
“I’ve been looking forward to this game for a long time,” Howell said. “I was hoping we’d see them again after we lost my sophomore year. I’m super excited for this one.”
Senior middle linebacker Matt Marrs is another who’s been waiting for this opportunity to play St. Michael’s. He watched on the sideline the first time and played in the second loss to the Crusaders.
Price and Marrs both said that the key to winning today will be stopping St. Michael’s quarterback Reed Carlton. Carlton accounted for 422 of his team’s 515 total yards in a 45-38 win over Plano John Paul II last week.
“Their quarterback is one of the smoothest runners I’ve ever seen,” Marrs said. “He moves well in the pocket. He gets out and he scrambles. He’s hard to catch, he can throw it down the field and he can outrun you.”
Senior right guard Brad Lundblade, who said he’s received 11 scholarship offers from Football Bowl Subdivision schools, said Liberty’s preparation has been similar to previous weeks and could put the Warriors in a good position for today’s game.
If Lundblade and the Warriors can finally topple a team that’s bested them twice, they will move closer to their first 5A championship and fourth football state title.
“Obviously, that’s always the goal — to make it to state,” Lundblade said. “That’s something we haven’t been able to do since we’ve been in 5A, so I think we have a good shot to do it this year. Obviously that’d be huge if we could do that.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.