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Liberty Union football returns to regional finals

Players remember 2008 team, hope to make more history

12:00 AM, Nov. 15, 2012 EST

Liberty Union senior Jesse Shirey runs the ball during the Lions' 22-21 win against Oak Hill on Saturday in a Division V, Region 19 semifinal at Nelsonville-York High School. / Jess Lanning/Eagle-Gazette


Tyler Magley was Liberty Union's ball boy the last time the Lions made the regional finals in 2008. His classmate, Austin Vannatta, remembers watching the Lions win the Division V, Region 19 title, as his brother, Andrew, was a freshman on the team.

In all, six current Liberty Union players had siblings on the team the last time the Lions made it this far in the playoffs. The Lions (10-2) are hoping to create good memories for future classes when they play Lucasville Valley (12-0) for the regional championship Saturday at Nelsonville-York High School.

"It was really exciting to watch him do that and then to do it myself, it's awesome," Vannatta, a junior, said after the Lions' 22-21 win last week against Oak Hill.

The players that did not have any relatives on the 2008 team still remember what it felt like to watch that team. They also recognize they are now the ones with a chance to make their own run.

That's the beauty of small-school football. The kids watching usually get a chance to be the ones playing.

"When I was in eighth grade watching in 2008, they were my idols," senior lineman Corey Miller said. "To actually be in the playoffs just like they were and having young kids watch us just like I was is amazing."

Senior Mitchell Kauffman added: "(I remember) at the elementary school watching them go by (on the way to a game), and now (fans) are watching us go by; it's just a dream come true."

Still, the Lions are not satisfied simply by making it this far. They want to keep playing. For that to happen, the Lions will have to overcome the undefeated Indians, who are making their second-consecutive trip to the regional finals.

This week will be difficult for the Lions, who will be without top players Luke Hannan and Justin Reeves because of injury. The absence of Hannan, a 6-feet-1, 275-pound defensive tackle, might be especially key, as the Indians constantly run the ball behind 6-feet-2, 330-pound guard J.J. Hettinger.

"We're ready for it. We've been studying films," senior Aaron Goodman said. "We know exactly what they're going to do."

Hannan would normally be the one to block that slot, but Goodman has moved over into Hannan's position. Lions coach Dan Johnson praised his team's depth, especially in coming back to beat Oak Hill last week after Hannan and Reeves left the game.

"It wasn't like we were ahead and had to hold on. We had to make plays with the backups to win the game," Johnson said. "So that gives us a lot of confidence. They're playmakers. They weren't just out there, they contributed."

Running backs Brandon Jordan and Nate Arnett complement quarterback Will Howard in the Indians' backfield. All three are capable of making plays, as the Indians will be a stiff test for Liberty Union's defense.

As the No. 6 seed in the region, the Lions have been the lower-rated team each step of the playoffs. That will be no different Saturday against the top-seeded Indians, but with only eight teams left in the state in each division, Johnson isn't one for talking about being an underdog.

"Our attitude is if we're good enough to get there, we're good enough to win it," Johnson said. "The underdogs are gone. There's eight good teams."



Twitter: @Vince_EGSports




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