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Depleted by COVID, Liberty shows depth in rout of Crusaders — PHOTOS

Liberty football coach Rich Muraco never has been one to back down in the face of a challenge, and Friday night was no exception.

With half his roster out because of COVID-19 protocols, Muraco called up his junior varsity squad, and the Class 5A second-ranked Patriots had no problem defeating Faith Lutheran 37-7 for a homecoming and Mountain League-opening victory at Liberty.

Brody Clark rushed 16 times for 143 yards and a touchdown to lead the Patriots (5-1).

“I loved our effort,” Muraco said. “We had almost 40 kids out, so we had to bring the JV up. I’m very proud of their effort, and I love the depth of our program.”

The roster fiasco was never obvious, as Liberty took control early, using a 14-play, 79-yard opening drive to go ahead 7-0 when reserve quarterback Colin Gregorio connected with Germie Bernard for a 4-yard TD pass.

“We knew we had to run the ball better,” said Muraco, whose offense kept the ball on the ground for 13 of its first 14 plays. “We’ve got to be able to establish the run, and that’s a big focus for us right now.”

Clark made it 14-0 with a 44-yard scoring sprint down the left sideline midway through the second quarter, and Liberty started pulling away early in the third when Bernard returned a punt 71 yards for a TD and 22-0 lead.

Faith Lutheran (1-4) had several sustained possessions but repeatedly came up empty, including a 17-play third-quarter drive that fizzled on the Patriots’ 17-yard line when the Crusaders were unable to convert a fourth-down attempt.

Liberty extended its lead to 30-0 on a fourth-quarter pass from Gregorio to Landon Bell before the Crusaders mounted a 10-play drive to score on a 1-yard Drais Bellamy run midway through the fourth quarter.

But Liberty got the points back when Gregorio connected with Logann Britt for an 8-yard TD pass five minutes later.

“It’s nice to know that when something like this happens, you’ve still got some really good players who can step up,” Muraco said.

Gregorio completed 13 of 22 passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns.

Bellamy carried 23 times for 90 yards rushing for the Crusaders.

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