For nearly three years the question was “When will Liberty win a game?”
Those days are long gone as Liberty head coach Mark Workman has guided the Raiders to the playoffs for the second straight year, establishing a program in Glen Daniel.
Now comes the next step – winning a playoff game. The Raiders nearly did so a year ago, leading Herbert Hoover by two scores heading into the fourth quarter before yielding a comeback. The lack of playoff success isn’t lost on Workman.
“You get a little more comfortable but the thing about it is we don’t know how to win one of those games yet,” Workman said. “We don’t know because we’ve never won one. We’re hoping this go around that this is our turn to move past that step and these kids are up for that challenge. To be there last year and be as close as we were, we felt like we should’ve won that ball game. But we didn’t. That’s a year ago and these kids are a different team with a different mentality and they’re ready to go.”
Early on getting to this point didn’t seem feasible.
After graduating a bushel of talented players including starting quarterback Isaac Atkins as well as all-stater Braden Howell and another talented player in Shawn Pennington, the Raiders were left with massive holes to fill.
Doubts were cast they could fill them after a 47-0 loss to Independence in the season-opener. After two weeks off the Raiders quickly righted the ship with a win over an undefeated Logan team and only gained momentum moving forward, ripping off four straight wins.
A disciple of the spread offense, Workman altered his philosophy early in the season, incorporating more of the single-wing.
With a younger offensive line that’s comprised mostly of underclassmen, the head coach needed a way to help his team move the ball. It also meshed well with the stable of backs at his disposal.
Leading the way in the backfield and benefitting from the change are seniors Logan Dodrill and Ryan Simms. Dodrill comes into the postseason with 1,163 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns while Simms has 451 yards and six scores in seven games.
Workman has credited the maturity of his senior group for making the change work, a trait forged throughout a 1-9 campaign when they were freshmen in 2018 followed a collapse after a 3-0 start in 2019.
“We just had a lot of growth,” Workman said. “I talk about maturity about every time I talk to any of the news guys. It’s just maturity. These kids have been through it – these seniors. They’ve been through the worst with me. These sophomores and juniors, they haven’t endured all of that that this senior group has. They’ve been good leaders throughout for this group of guys. They’re starting to mature. These sophomores we started up front, they’re not sophomores anymore. At this point of the season you’re now juniors so you’ve got to play like that.”
Maturity, perseverance and faith will all be necessary as the Raiders open their title pursuit at Poca on Friday.
Two weeks ago the Dots were the No. 1 team in Class AA but have dropped back-to-back games, finishing at No. 5. Normally the No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup would appear lopsided but this matchup is anything but.
The Dots have skated by with close wins over Scott and Logan but lost to Wayne last week, a team the Raiders beat 30-22 a month ago. Still, Workman isn’t taking the veteran group lightly.
“They’re tough,” Workman said. “We have some common opponents in there. We’ve got Logan, we’ve got Wayne and Scott. There are some common opponents but let me tell you something – Poca’s tough. Whichever way you look at it, they’ve got 13 seniors and the Payne kid (Toby) is tough. It’s a daunting task for us. They’re big and we’re not real big. Now we’re going to get after but that’s one thing about our team that’s discouraging – the strength part of it. But they’ve got a lot of heart and they play that way.”
Liberty will open postseason play Friday when it travels to No. 5 Poca. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
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