By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
Brookfield High football team was unable to lay a loss on Liberty last night, but at least the Warriors gained a measure of satisfaction by actually leading the Leopards.
Mack O’Brien returned the game’s opening kickoff 87 yards, and 12 ticks into the season loaded Liberty was losing 7-0.
However the Leopards, led by tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint’s 19-carry, 117-yard rushing effort and Anthony Cleveland’s 5-for-8, 129-yard, 3-touchdown passing performance belted Brookfield 56-21 at Addison Field Thursday night.
The Leopards, with 21 letterwinners returning from a 6-4 team from a year ago boast as much raw talent as any team in the OHSAA, particularly for a Division III contingent. Reportedly, both Toussaint and Isaiah Bell are bound for the University of Michigan.
Liberty laid 377 total yards on the Warriors on only 42 snaps, an average of 8.9 yards per play.
“Heart-wise, we played the best we can play. Athletic ability? We had nothing for them,” admitted Brookfield bench boss Randy Clark. “They’ve got a nice team. Size-wise, athletic-wise, all around. I mean, they’re a good team.”
On Liberty’s ensuing drive following O’Brien’s kickoff return, Toussaint’s 4-yard TD tally culminated a 5-play, 49-yard drive necessitating less than 2 full minutes. The first of Matt Britton’s 7 PATs knotted the count at 7 with 9:22 remaining in the 1st frame.
The Leopards then led 35-13 by the break as Cleveland connected with Bell, Antonio Kinard and Toussaint for touchdown tosses of 16, 47 and 48 yards, respectively, and Cleveland capped a 6-play, 51-yard, 1-minute, 36-second march with a 1-yard plunge.
Sandwiched inbetween Liberty’s largesse was Matt Palumbo’s 65-yard scoring sprint on a 3rd-and-1 option keeper in which he outraced the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Bell who reportedly has 4.5 40-yard dash speed.
The teams traded 3rd-quarter TDs — Jamon Wagner jumped an attempted Palumbo pitch and sprinted 39 yards for the Leopards’ score, then Palumbo and O’Brien collaborated on a 31-yard scoring strike on a 4th-and-8 play, as well as the subsequent 2-point conversion.
But Brookfield, entering the 4th frame trailing 42-21, was spent physically, and Liberty backup tailback Nico Minniti mustered 9- and 41-yard TD runs.
O’Brien returned 4 kickoffs for 176 yards (44 yards per), rushed 10 times for 36 yards, caught the TD toss and added an endzone interception, while Palumbo produced a 15-carry, 145-yard performance on the ground.
“They gutted it out, and that’s what they’re going to have to do all year,” Clark confided regarding his senior backfield tandem. “We lose one guy on the opening kickoff (senior Ian O’Neil, possibly to a right ACL injury, though that has not been officially confirmed) and we had to make three (position) changes before the game even started.”
The Warriors were able to generate 241 total yards on 46 plays (5.2 yards/play), and Clark assessed,
“Heart-wise, I think our kids reacted very well; physical-wise, I think our kids did well, but we were just outmanned.”
LIBERTY 7 28 7 14 56
BROOKFIELD 7 6 8 0 21
B — O’Brien, 87 kickoff return (O’Brien kick)
L — Toussaint, 4 run (Britton kick)
L — Bell, 16 pass from Cleveland (Britton kick)
L — Kinard, 47 pass from Cleveland (Britton kick)
B — Palumbo, 65 run (kick failed)
L — Cleveland 1 run (Britton kick)
L — Toussaint, 48 pass from Cleveland (Britton kick)
L — Wagner, 39 interception return (Britton kick)
B — O’Brien, 31 pass from Palumbo (O’Brien pass from Palumbo)\
L — Minniti, 9 run (Britton kick)
L — Minniti, 41 run (Stanovcak kick)
16 First downs 7
248 Rushing yards 210
129 Passing yards 31
8-5-1 Att-comp-int 6-1-1
377 Total yards 241
4-2 Fumbles-lost 4-1
6-65 Penalties-yards lost 10-70
Rushing: LIBERTY — Toussaint 19-117, Minniti 6-61, Pennington 4-53, Kinard 3-9, Martin 1-1; BROOKFIELD — Palumbo 15-145, O’Brien 10-36, Sulick 9-19, Pascale 4-6, Sydlowski 2-4.
Passing: LIBERTY — Cleveland 8-5-1, 129; BROOKFIELD — Palumbo 6-1-1, 31.
Receiving: LIBERTY — Kinard 2-58, Bell 2-23, Toussaint 1-48; BROOKFIELD — O’Brien 1-31.