Liberty Union’s football season ended on a sour note Saturday, as the Lions lost 41-7 to Kirtland, the defending Division V state champions.
The loss came in the state semifinals at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, but getting to that point meant the Lions, Region 19’s No. 6 seed, won a regional title after defeated the region’s top three seeds. Coach Dan Johnson said he was happy with how his team stuck together throughout the year.
“I’m proud of everything these guys have accomplished,” he said. “That was a rough night (Saturday) and it hurts like heck for all of us. I just want to stay together as a team and not pick on each other and fall apart, because that’s what was great on the year.”
The Lions developed a knack for creating key turnovers and winning close games throughout the year. Their final two wins included a one-point, come-from-behind victory against Oak Hill and a 26-14 triumph over Lucasville Valley, which was undefeated heading into the game. In their four postseason games, Liberty Union’s defense hauled in 11 turnovers.
Justin Reeves said those wins, and all the season’s accomplishments, were a result of an all-around effort.
“I hope people remember that we played together,” the senior captain said.
“The things we were able to do, we didn’t have one guy that was special. Everyone on this team had some great ability to them.”
That team mentality was perhaps most felt on the defensive side of the ball where 11 players had 50 or more tackles and 19 different players either had an interception or a recovered a fumble this season. On the other side of the ball, 13 players scored for the Lions this season.
By the team’s own admission, it was not a complete unit to start the season. Liberty Union lost two of its first five games to begin the year, including its last regular-season defeat, a 28-0 loss to Licking Heights on Sept. 21.
“In the beginning of the season we didn’t know how to play as a team and we got better as we went on,” Basso said.
The Lions reached the state semifinals for the first time since 2008. Reeves said this team exceeded expectations.
“The beginning of the season, everybody doubted us,” he said. “We just wanted to prove everyone wrong that we could do something great this season and we have. Some of us in here knew we could do it, but we might have even shocked some of the coaches.”
In Baltimore, which has a population of about 3,000, the community remembers it’s best teams. Reeves, like most in the village, remembered the deep playoff run of the 2008 squad and said he hopes this year’s version is something younger players will keep with them.
“I want the younger kids to see this as an opportunity. No matter how tough things get, you can do something great with it,” he said. “I want the kids that play middle school or Pee Wee to build on this.”