Sean Kelley walked to midfield and wrestled a large plug of grass from the earth. He planned to take it home and put it in a Ziploc bag. On the outside, he said he would write the date: Oct. 22, 2010.
“I felt like I needed to take something as a memento of the night,” said Kelley, a Houston assistant football coach. “A memento of a dark point in the history of the program from what I can tell.”
In a season full of lows, this was the lowest.
Houston ran 42 plays and was held to minus-10 yards of offense. Defensively, the Tigers offered little resistance as Liberty scored 41 second-quarter points and cruised to a 62-0 victory Friday night at Tiger Stadium.
The win clinched Liberty’s second consecutive Class 2 District 3 championship and for the first time in school history, the Eagles (8-1, 6-0 SCA) are the outright conference champions. Liberty tied for the SCA crown in 2009.
As a long season winds down — Houston (0-9, 0-7 SCA) has been outscored 412-46 going into this week’s finale at Cuba — Kelley wants the team to use the loss as motivation. He plans to begin “on-season” workouts as soon as the season ends.
“The day after the game I bought the Joel Osteen book, ‘It’s Your Time,’ and he had a quote in their that really put things into perspective: ‘It’s always darkest before dawn,'” Kelley said. “That quote really spoke to me and the direction I envision our program going. I know people are always going to have their doubts, but I believe daylight is closer than most think.”
The Tigers struggled mightily to gain positive yards against Liberty’s swarming defense that dominate the line of scrimmage. Houston had one first down and failed to complete a pass for the first time this season.
Liberty scored with quick strikes on the ground, through the air and defensively. Three of the Eagles’ first-half touchdowns were one-play drives, and Tyler Spittler had interception and fumble returns for scores in a 20-second span on consecutive plays in the second quarter.
Daniel Porter gained 163 yards on seven carries — all in the first half — and scored on touchdown runs of 45, 10 and 53 yards. Quarterback Kole Gastineau was 6-of-6 passing for 131 yards and three touchdowns.
Kaden Miller led Houston with 14 rushing yards on 11 carries. Kyle Jones had five runs for four yards. The Tigers’ other four rushers were held to a combined minus-28 yards.
The Tigers punted a season-high 11 times and committed two turnovers.
Senior members of the band and cheerleading and football teams were introduced alongside their parents before the game. It was the final game at Tiger Stadium for Dustin Wheeler, Dalton Pokorny, Greg Ryan, Cory Scheets, Nick Portincaso and Brian Hunter.
Corey Stallcup, also a senior, suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier in the season.
Scheets, a two-way starter, was forced to watch from the sidelines after being ejected the previous week at Willow Springs. The Tigers were also without Drake Bell, a two-way starter who was ejected with Scheets on the same play.
Porter broke loose for a 45-yard touchdown run on Liberty’s second play from scrimmage. On the Eagles’ fifth play, freshman Jaelon Acklin made a nifty move on a short sideline pass and darted 17 yards to make it 14-0.
Steven Moore caught a 27-yard scoring pass from Gastineau early in the second quarter to begin a flurry of points. Three plays after Porter’s 10-yard touchdown run, Spittler picked off a screen pass and returned it six yards for a score.
Following the ensuing kickoff, Spittler wrestled the ball out of the hands of sophomore Adam Neugebauer and ran 23 yards for his second touchdown in a 20-second span.
Derek Daniels had a 37-yard receiving score, and Porter darted for a 53-yard rushing touchdown for the Eagles’ sixth touchdown in a span of 8 minutes, 20 seconds. Liberty led 55-0 at the half.
Kelley hopes Houston’s players will remember each of those touchdowns when he removes the Ziplock bag of grass from his desk and presents it as a reminder of where the program once resided.
“When the time is right and the grass is greener, I plan on using the grass to motivate the kids and propel us even further,” Kelley said.