LYNCHBURG—Coach Fred Birchett said that he knew his New Kent football team was in for a difficult game when Liberty's players came onto the field and were "an awful lot bigger than they looked on film."
But he said he thought the Trojans might have an advantage, one they played often in advancing to the state Group AA Division 3 championship game.
Birchett was right. The Minutemen rushed for a state playoff record 529 yards and a 41-6 victory at Williams Stadium in Lynchburg on Saturday. It was the first state title in football for Liberty, located in Bedford, near Lynchburg. The Minutemen finished 10-4, the same as New Kent, which was also participating in its first state final.
Three backs rushed for more than 100 yards out of Liberty's triple-option offense. Sophomore quarterback O.B. Blake had 192 yards and three touchdowns, and halfback Michael Pennix added 115 yards and a score. But it was Chris Spinner, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound fullback, who took the heart out of New Kent's defense with his speed and power.
Spinner ran for 198 yards on 13 carries, and his 46-yard touchdown run with 24 seconds remaining in the first quarter opened the scoring and demoralized the Trojans.
After taking the handoff, Spinner broke free along the left sideline before New Kent cornerback Daniel Allen caught him at the 10. Spinner didn't go down. Instead, he dragged Allen, a 142-pound freshman, 6 yards before safety Jeremiah Brandon piled on. Again, Spinner didn't go down. Instead, he dragged both players the final 4 yards into the end zone.
"After that first touchdown, I thought it would be a long day," New Kent defensive end Elroy Delaney said.
Liberty coach Chris Watts said Spinner's success early was the key to his team's dominance.
"We were surprised at how well we moved the ball early," Watts said. "Any time you can establish the fullback, it opens up the rest of the offense."
Blake, a quick and deceptive option specialist, took advantage of the openings. On Liberty's next possession, Blake ran left, then cut back to the middle and sprinted 53 yards for a touchdown.
The Trojans retaliated on Ryan Wilder's 40-yard touchdown run to make it 13-6 midway through the second quarter.
But Blake extinguished New Kent's comeback hopes. He passed 44 yards to Bobby Erker, then faked a handoff to Spinner before tucking the ball on an 8-yard touchdown run to make it 20-6 at halftime.
"The coaches said when they crash in, I can pull (the ball in) and the lanes would be there," Blake said. "Our offense is all about making the right reads, and this is probably the best we played all year."
It's unlikely the Minutemen have ever been better than they were in the third quarter. They needed nine carries to net 224 yards and three touchdowns. Blake ran 94 yards on a keeper for one touchdown and Pennix added a 72-yard touchdown run.
The Trojans had no answer. Sophomore fullback Travis Lee had a respectable day, rushing for 121 yards.
But George Jones, a senior who was averaging 138 rushing yards, was held to 58.
"They were extremely quick off the ball and got a lot of penetration," Jones said. "Just getting to the state championship game is a big thing for us. It's a disappointment to lose, but they beat us fair and square.
"They're a hard-nosed football team and they ran the ball right down our throats."