With first place in the Carroll County on the line at home against North Carroll, the Liberty football program was more than up for the challenge.
Thanks to an offensive attack that did what it had to, as well as shutdown defense in the second half, the Lions ended the Panthers' undefeated start Thursday night, 22-13.
"I'm feeling pretty pumped right now," said Liberty quarterback Austin Bode, who threw for two touchdowns in the win. "I thought this was a great battle throughout the entire game. Our defense stepped up tremendously. Our offense wasn't clicking all the way for us, but our defense found a way to get this 'W' for us."
Though the offense showed flashes throughout the first half, including a 36-yard touchdown pass to Logan Sweeney, it was the Lion defense that came up when it mattered.
Inside the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter, with North Carroll signal caller Jack Flowers injured on the sideline after a hard hit, Lions defensive end Travis Smith closed the pocket and dumped Noah Cain in the backfield for a safety — putting the game out of reach.
"This was probably our best game," Liberty coach Larry Luthe said of his defense. "They had some weapons. I think holding them to 13 points was a nice job for our defense."
Austin Catley's game-high eight catches for 127 yards and a touchdown kept things at an even keel for the Panthers (4-1, 1-1 county).
"It was a hard-fought game," North Carroll coach Todd Edmondson said. "We have to understand playing four quarters. Liberty did a good job. This was a good football game."
The Panthers struck first, when running back Coby Lowe split the Liberty defense and ran 59 yards on the ground on second-and-11 in the first quarter. That run set up a first-and-goal situation, and two plays later, quarterback Jack Flowers ran in for the score.
On Liberty's next possession, however, Max Kirin responded with a 4-yard running score.
The Lions (4-1, 2-0) got another break minutes later, when North Carroll's punt attempt went short, setting up the home team with a short field.
Bode only needed one shot — a long pass to Sweeney that a North Carroll defender tipped before dropping into the Lions receiver's arms.
North Carroll made its final possession of the half count. Feeling pressure from the outside, Flowers stepped up in the pocket on fourth-and-1 and found a darting Catley across the middle.
With a quick move to shake the Liberty defender, Catley won the race to the end zone for the score.
Receiver David Downs added a score in the third quarter for the Lions on a 10-yard catch. The fourth-quarter safety proved to be too much, and the Panthers couldn't recover.
Edmondson said his team isn't worried about records, even saying that losing its undefeated streak "means nothing to me."
Liberty, however, relished the opportunity to down a talented county foe.