By Jim Hunter
THE MEADVILLE TRIBUNE
A few minutes after finishing the regular season with a 40-10 victory over Maplewood on Friday night, Cochranton coach Nathan Liberty gathered his players and screamed, “Where are we going?”
His players emphatically responded, “Playoffs.”
Breaking an nine-year dry spell, Liberty & Co. secured their playoff spot with their sixth win in nine decisions and a 5-2 Region 2 mark.
The first-year Cochranton coach — who got doused with the water bucket — was a little emotional afterwards.
“I’m so happy for these kids ... especially the seniors,” he said. “They (seniors) really stepped up for us this season. They put a lot on their shoulders and led the way.”
The five seniors: Austin Andrews, Cameron Cyphert, Brandon Hostetler, Shane Keller and AJ Nageotte.
Liberty nearly didn’t have his seniors to rely on.
“They were very skeptical about coming out this year. They were tired of losing. We had to pull some hairs to get to play.”
No regrets now.
Andrews, the workhorse running back for Liberty, had a phenomenal final regular-season game. He rushed for 221 yards on 25 carries and scored three touchdowns.
Cyphert, Liberty’s middle linebacker, stamped his name on the defensive side with three bone-crunching tackles. Nageotte hauled in two passes for 73 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown reception.
Get the picture? Cochranton dominated.
On Cochranton’s first play from scrimmage, Andrews busted loose for a 48-yard touchdown scamper.
With 57 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Cochranton tailback Garrett Adams scored on an 11-yard run to give the Cardinals a 12-0 lead.
Maplewood closed to within 12-10 in the second quarter as Justin Dahl booted a 25-yard field goal and quarterback Nate Klingler scored on a five-yard run.
A Tigers’ upset in the works? Not quite.
Capitalizing on a Maplewood fumble, Cochranton increased its lead to 20-10 as junior quarterback Chad Eisenhooth hooked up with split end Nageotte on the aforementioned 26-yard scoring completion with 4:34 remaining in the first half.
In the second half, the Cardinals were in complete control as Andrews scored on eight- and 14-yard runs and Eisenhooth crossed the goal line on a 26-yard keeper.
Defensively, Cochranton held Maplewood scoreless and only to 25 yards in total offense.
Eisenhooth nearly topped 100 yards in both passing and rushing. He completed four of 10 passes for 111 yards and rushed for 99 yards on 14 hauls.
Eisenhooth’s counterpart, Klingler, completed nine of 19 passes for 100 yards.