Green Valley football coach Matt Gerber likes to say that special teams are the great equalizer for his team.
Never was that truer than Friday night.
Junior kicker Nolan Kohorst booted a 50-yard field goal, senior punter Jordan Miller twice pinned Liberty inside its own 5-yard line and the host Gators’ defense did the rest in a 17-0 victory before a huge homecoming crowd.
“Special teams certainly won this game for us,” Gerber said. “I’m telling you, special teams is a difference maker, especially at the high school level. I tell everyone we have the best kicker in the state and we have the best punter in the state. They’re difference-makers.”
The win was fourth in a row for the Gators and sets up a big showdown for first place in the Southeast League at No. 5 Del Sol next week.
Taylor Jones rushed for 57 yards and scored on a 2-yard run early in the second quarter to make it 10-0, while Quincy Bagsby added 62 yards for the Gators (5-2, 3-0 Southeast). Quarterback Nick Libonati put the game away with a 30-yard touchdown with 25 seconds remaining in the game.
Meanwhile, Green Valley’s defense put the clamps on the Patriots’ double-wing offense, holding Liberty (3-4, 1-3) to 58 yards on the ground and 102 total yards, 31 of which came on a pass from Robert Gilliland to Shawn Murray on the final play of the first half.
Murray led the Patriots with 44 yards rushing.
Gerber said his scout team offense came to practice 30 minutes early each day this week to prepare for Liberty’s offense after the Gators gave up 357 yards on the ground in a loss to Arbor View, which also runs the double-wing.
“Our scout team, I have to give it to them because they gave us a good look,” Gators middle linebacker Brett Rather said. “We plugged the holes, kept our assignments and played with some attitude.”
Kohorst gave the Gators a 3-0 lead with his long field goal, his third of more than 50 yards this season. He missed a 42-yarder that the stiff wind pushed wide right and appeared to make a 43-yarder in the third quarter, although the officials ruled it went wide left.
But it was Miller, back after a separated shoulder, who helped Green Valley win the battle of field position. Late in the first quarter,
Miller hit a 47-yard punt that bounced inside the 10 and checked up like a sand wedge at the Liberty 1-yard line. The Patriots gained a first down, but after being stopped on third down, Gerber called a timeout with 25 seconds left in the quarter to force Liberty to punt into the wind.
The move paid off as Ian Jackson’s punt traveled just 16 yards and Green Valley took over at the Patriots’ 26. Five plays later, Jones scored and the Gators led 10-0.
In the third quarter, Miller kicked a 38-yard punt that was downed at the Liberty 5. The Gators forced another punt and got the ball at Liberty’s 33, although they couldn’t cash in when Kohorst missed his 43-yard try.
“Unfortunately, our big boys weren’t able to control the line of scrimmage,” Patriots coach Lou Markouzis said. “They have a hell of a kicking game. They pinned us deep and it paid dividends. With our offense, it’s tough to go 99 yards.”
The Gators had chances to put the game away in the fourth quarter, but fumbled twice deep in Liberty territory. Following an interception by Stefan Newman, though, Libonati bolted 30 yards on a quarterback draw on fourth-and-7 to ice it.
“The thing is, we still haven’t played our best ball,” Gerber said. “It seems like every game is a struggle. The good thing is the kids are learning how to win the close ones.”