NORTH LIBERTY — The goal entering the season was “pretty simple” for the Iowa City Liberty football team.
After all, the Lightning were entering just their second year as a varsity program.
“We just want to keep getting better every day,” Coach Jeff Gordon said before the season when asked if his team could make the playoffs. “We want to be the most physical team every night we take the field.”
The playoffs were not mentioned. It has all been about sticking to the process Gordon set forth when Liberty’s football program began in 2016.
Sticking to that process since Day 1 now has playoffs in the conversation.
On Friday night, the Lightning will make their first postseason appearance. Liberty (7-2) travels to meet No. 3 Solon (9-0) in an opening-round Class 3A game at Spartan Stadium, set for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Needless to say, the playoff berth has the school buzzing.
“Everyone has been extremely supportive,” Gordon said. “They are all excited for our first senior class to make the playoffs.”
Entering 2019, Liberty was not among the favorites to make the playoffs. When asked if there was a key moment or turning point during the season, Gordon offered an interesting response.
“I think it was June 1, 2016, when these seniors started the program as freshmen,” he said. “They have been believing, doing their best and never giving up over the last four years.
“Hopefully they have four more challenges ahead of them.”
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Friday’s foe is a postseason regular. This will be Solon’s 15th straight playoff appearance under Coach Kevin Miller and 30th overall. Gordon knows Liberty is a heavy underdog against a Spartan team led by quarterback Cam Miller, receiver AJ Coons and running back/receiver Jace Andregg.
“They have the best coaches in the state and they have phenomenal players at every position,” he said of the Spartans. “They have been one of the best programs in the state for over a decade.
“We’re going to enjoy every minute of it. We understand that even though nobody thinks we have a chance, we are still gonna play the game.”
If Friday’s game is close, don’t expect Liberty to flinch. Four of the seven Lightning wins have come by seven points or less. Both losses came to playoff qualifiers (Washington and North Scott).
The Lightning rely on a solid running game and a stingy defense. Junior Max Tafolla has rushed for 1,052 yards and eight touchdowns on 182 carries. Senior Kaleb Williams, has been Liberty’s top overall performer, rushing for 829 yards and eight scores on 116 carries. He also has a pair of TD receptions and leads the team in tackles with 76 to go along with two interceptions.
Gordon acknowledges the odds are against his team.
“It will take a miracle to beat them,” he said, “but miracles happen to those who believe in them.”