WACO — Saturday night’s win over Austin St. Michael’s Catholic was akin to an exorcism for the Liberty Christian Warriors. Next up, maybe a little revenge.
The Warriors (9-3) finally took care of an old playoff nemesis, beating the Crusaders 48-36 at Waco ISD Stadium. The game-time temperature was 41 degrees, and a brisk north wind picked up as the game went on.
The frigid conditions didn’t seem to impact the Warriors, who scored touchdowns on their first six possessions and then let their defense hold up against the Crusaders as they had chances to get back into the game.
It was the third time in four years that Liberty and St. Michael’s met in the postseason. The Crusaders won the first two meetings.
Liberty (9-3) faces Fort Worth Nolan next week in the TAPPS Class 5A Division I semifinals. Nolan defeated Liberty 41-31 in their district meeting earlier this season.
The Warriors piled up offensive numbers Saturday, finishing with 549 yards in total offense, including 362 by halftime.
Given the conditions, the Warriors chose to use the ground game and JonAaron Howell had a huge night, gaining 241 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. Quarterback Colby Moore, who was 15-of-20 for 75 yards passing and two touchdowns, also rushed for 134 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries.
By the time Moore scored from 5 yards out with 5:24 left in the third — a drive that chewed up the first 6:36 of the quarter — the Warriors had a 42-17 lead and seemed to be on cruise control.
The game wasn’t quite as close as the 12-point margin, because the Liberty defense quashed several Crusader opportunities.
After Moore’s TD late in the third, Jameson Houston returned the ensuing kickoff to the Warrior 5, which set up a Chris Lewis touchdown run. The Crusaders recovered the onside kick, but the ensuing scrum led to three personal fouls, two of which were on St. Michael’s and set the Crusaders back 15 yards. That led to a punt.
The Crusaders then forced the Warriors to punt, and a snap over Cole Austin’s head gave the Crusaders fantastic field position at the Warrior 16. But the Warrior defense was exceptional on the possession, overcoming a pass interference call and not allowing the Crusaders past the 4. St. Michael’s had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Matt Marker with 8:54 left in the game, cutting the Liberty lead to 42-28.
Liberty drove all the way to the Crusader 1, where Cody Hughes fumbled and St. Michael’s recovered in the end zone. But it led to nothing, as the Crusaders had to punt and Howell turned the next drive into a Liberty touchdown.
The Crusaders did score again and recover another onside kick, but it came inside of a minute left in the game and they were unable to turn it into points.
The Warrior defense kept constant pressure on St. Michael’s senior quarterback, especially in the second half, sacking him several times.
Liberty took the lead for good in the second quarter when Matt Marrs caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Moore to give Liberty a 21-14 lead.
Liberty Christian 48, Austin St. Michael’s 36
SM — Jameson Houston 71 pass from Reed Carlton (Matt Marker kick)
LC — Colby Moore 1 run (Cole Austin kick)
SM — Houston 5 run (Marker kick)
LC — JonAaron Howell 27 run (Austin kick)
LC — Matt Marrs 11 pass from Moore (Austin kick)
LC — Howell 6 pass from Moore (Austin kick)
SM — Marker 27 FG
LC — Moore 1 run (Austin kick)
LC — Moore 5 run (Austin kick)
SM — Chris Lewis 3 run (Zach DeVries pass from Reed Carlton)
SM — Marker 24 FG
LC — Howell 3 run (kick blocked)
SM — Carlton run (Carlton run)
Rushing — LC: JonAaron Howell 29-241, Colby Moore 16-134, Matt Marrs 3-22, Danny David Linahan 1-15, Ryan Vollenhals 1-5, TEAM 1-(-25), SM: Patrick Doyle 5-56, Reed Carlton 16-28, Jameson Houston 5-14, Chris Lewis 1-3, Regan Hahn 2-2.
Passing — LC: Colby Moore 15-20-0-157, SM: Reed Carlton 8-21-0-145.
Receiving — LC: Hunter Griffith 3-42, Matt Marrs 3-30, Danny David Linahan 2-29, JonAaron Howell 3-22, Cody Hughes 1-15, Drew Hunnicutt 1-10, Hugh Jeffery 2-9, SM: Jameson Houston 6-126, Regan Hahn 1-15, Patrick Doyle 1-4.