Prep Football

Iowa City Liberty takes step closer to Class 3A playoffs with 14-7 win over Davenport Assumption

Lightning improve to 6-2 in second year as varsity program

NORTH LIBERTY — They played Prince’s “Purple Rain” immediately following Friday night’s game. The long version with the extended guitar solo.

Which seemed incredibly appropriate since it looks like it might just be Purple Playoffs for the Iowa City Liberty football team.

Max Tafolla scored on a 1-yard run with 3:29 left, Kaleb Williams followed with an interception and the Lightning outpounded Davenport Assumption, 14-7, taking one step closer to the 3A postseason.

“Just a lot of excitement in the air,” said Tafolla, who overcame an ankle injury that kept him out of last week’s game against DeWitt Central to rush for 135 yards on 34 between-the-tackles carries and both Liberty touchdowns. “A lot of love for my teammates, my brothers. Last year, if you looked at the score, it wasn’t so much our way when we traveled down there. I just think this proves how much we have improved since last year and how much we have come together as a team.”

Assumption won last year’s game, 27-0. That was Liberty’s first varsity team, of course, and it went 3-6.

This year’s Bolts are 6-2 overall and 3-1 in District 5, with one regular season game remaining next week against winless Clinton. North Scott is the only unbeaten team in the district and plays Assumption (5-3, 3-1) next week.

A three-way tie for the championship is possible. Liberty went into Friday night with a RPI of 18, a number that should improve after this win.

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RPI determines at-large playoff qualifiers. The nine district champs in the class around the state automatically get in, with seven at-large berths determined by RPI.

“I don’t know if we’re in or not,” said head coach Jeff Gordon. “We have a big challenge ahead of us next week. That’s all we can focus on.”

Liberty is a ground-and-pound team offensively that went on the mother of all drives to begin this game. The Lightning traveled 80 yards on 20 running plays, taking all but 36.4 off the first-quarter clock.

Tafolla scored on a 2-yard run. A similar team offensively, Assumption drove 72 yards on 14 running plays to open the second half, with back Nate Schlichting carrying the football 13 times, including for a 2-yard TD that tied it.

The game’s deciding play came with 8:02 left in the fourth when Assumption muffed a Liberty punt, with Williams recovering it at the Assumption 28. Nine straight Tafolla carries up the middle ensued, including the winning touchdown.

Williams intercepted a pass on the very first play of Assumption’s ensuing possession at the Knights 30. He took a pitch play 12 yards on fourth-and-5 for a first down that allowed Liberty to run out the clock.

“Our coaches talk about who is going to create turnovers. That’s going to be a momentum changer,” said Williams, the son of former University of Iowa national champion wrestler Joe Williams. “I think (this) is unbelievable. We all can’t really believe it right now. Our hard work in the weight room and on the field is really paying off. We know if we keep doing our thing, (the playoffs) will come true.”

Schlichting finished with 100 yards on 16 carries for Assumption, which was limited to 135 yards, all on the ground. The teams combined to throw four passes, one of which was complete.

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“We’ve got different formations, but we’ve got the exact same team,” Gordon said. “Both teams like to run the ball, both have some guys that can hit ... We’re not fast, we’re not big, we’re pretty slow. But we’re strong, and we like to fight.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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