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Turnovers key in 53-6 RCB victory

by Greg Talkington

SPORTS WRITER

Opportunistic Robert C. Byrd cashed in on nine Liberty turnovers to turn a close game in the early going into a 53-6 rout Friday night at Hite Field.

The Class AAA, seventh-rated Eagles scored two defensive touchdowns on Sam D'Annunzio interception returns of 13 and 85 yards and saw the defense set up four more scores with recovered fumbles as they ran their record to 6-0.

But in the early portions of the game, it was the Mountaineers that set the tone with a hard-hitting defense.

Liberty forced RCB into a three-and-out on its first possession and then blocked a punt that the Mountaineers recovered on the 16.

Two plays later, Jason Salentro hooked up with Chad Southern on a 16-yard TD pass to make it 6-0.

Liberty's fired-up defense then forced RCB to give it up on downs on the ensuing possession.

But Byrd's defense then went to work. First, R.J. Coleman forced a fumble at the Liberty 31 and two plays later, hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Andy Wilhelm.

Early in the second quarter, D'Annunzio came up with his first pickoff, and Byrd's defense later forced a safety to lead 16-6.

Liberty responded with an interception and drove to the RCB 2 where a fumble ended the threat.

RCB then responded with a scoring drive of 80 yards, climaxed by Scott Ross's 22-yard TD run, and the Eagles had control of the contest. A Wilhelm to George Shehl pass of 35 yards was the key play of the drive.

"We weren't ready to play," RCB coach Rich Iaquinta said. "We made some plays when we had to, but this game could have turned out different if not for a few breaks."

Liberty co-coach Tommy Lopez was pleased with the determination of his team.

"We played with a lot of heart and better than the score indicated," Lopez said. "I'm pleased with the effort, but we need to cut down on mistakes."

Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at gtalkington@exponent-telegram.com.

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