LIBERTY, Ohio (WKBN) – Sitting at 5-3 with a playoff appearance within reach, the Leopards fell in each of their final two home games – by 7 points in each matchup- to end the 2021 season at 5-5 and without their ticket punched to week eleven.

Their last two contests were against teams who combined for a 19-1 regular season record (LaBrae and Garrettsville Garfield). “Those last two games were tough to take,” states second-year head coach Joe Simon. “We had the lead in the fourth quarter against the top two teams in our conference, but we fell short, and that stung for a while. We used that sting to fuel our off-season. Our leadership has been outstanding, and that’s an intangible that can go a long way.”

This fall, Derek DeMattia takes over as the team’s starting quarterback. Last year, DeMattia played quarterback early on but was a better fit at tight end as the year wore on. Freshman Tyson Lawrence-Watson has also shone in the off-season as he shows potential to push DeMattia for playing time as the Leopards’ signal caller.

Senior wide receiver Chris Cunningham is back after an exciting 2021 season. Number 7 hauled in 53 receptions for 1012 yards (19.1 avg) while converting 14 touchdowns. Cunningham will be joined by Colten Wipprecht on the edge for Liberty’s offense.

The offensive line will return tackle Jeff Moananu and guard Thomas Easton up front.

On defense, the Leopards lost eight of their top 11 tacklers from last fall. “We lost some fantastic football players,” says Simon. “Especially up front and at linebacker. Our defensive line was one of the best in the area, so we need some guys to step up [for us].”

Liberty will welcome back Derek DeMattia (39 tackles, 3.5 TFL), Quaisas Patterson (35 tackles), and Tawann Tutwiler (27 tackles, 3 INTs).

The secondary appears to be a real strength for the Leopards with the return of John Lard, Jayden Taylor, Tutwiler and Patterson.

Simon’s optimistic about his defense, “We made some changes that we think will put our kids in a better position to succeed, and we’re looking forward to seeing them in action. We still have a lot to prove and guys have to stay disciplined in their roles.”

The Leopards will travel to Berlin Center to face Western Reserve in Week One on Aug. 19.

“We have a talented group that’s ready to compete on a weekly basis,” points out coach Simon. “They’ve bought in to the core values and overall concepts that we’re teaching, so we’re excited to see what we can do come Friday nights in the fall.”

Liberty Leopards
Fast Facts
Head Coach: Joe Simon, 2nd season (5-5)
2021 Record: 5-5 (3-3), 5th place in MVAC Grey Tier
Last 5 Years: 24-24 (50%)
Home Field: Leopard Stadium
League: Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference, Grey Tier
Base Offense: Spread
Base Defense: 3-4

Returning Starters
Offense: 5
Defense: 4

2021 Team Stats
Scoring Offense: 31.0 (17th in Area)
Scoring Defense: 26.7 (36th in Area)
Total Offense: 348.5
Rushing Offense: 161.1
Passing Offense: 187.4

2021 Individual Leaders
Passing: D.C. Ferrell – 1800 yards, 61.7% (124-201), 21 TDs
Rushing: Donte Venters – 587 yards, 4.8 avg, 6 TDs
Receiving: Chris Cunningham – 1012 yards, 19.1 avg, 14 TDs
Tackles: La’breilyn Wilson – 53
Quarterback Sacks: La’breilyn Wilson – 4
Interceptions: Tawann Tutwiler – 3

2021 Results
Garfield 43 Leopards 36
LaBrae 41 Leopards 34
Leopards 53 Newton Falls 19
Leopards 27 Champion 24
Leopards 49 Campbell Memorial 0
Crestview 49 Leopards 13
Rootstown 24 Leopards 20
Leopards 34 Lakeview 28, OT
Girard 27 Leopards 13
Leopards 30 Western Reserve 12

2021 MVAC Grey Tier Standings
Garfield – 6-0 (12-1)
LaBrae – 6-1 (11-2)
Brookfield – 4-2 (7-4)
Crestview – 4-2 (5-5)
Liberty – 3-3 (5-5)
Champion – 2-5 (2-8)
Newton Falls – 1-6 (3-7)
Campbell – 0-7 (1-9)

2022 Schedule
Aug. 19 – at Western Reserve
Aug. 26 – at Girard
Sept. 2 – Lakeview
Sept. 9 – Brookfield
Sept. 16 – at Crestview
Sept. 23 – Campbell Memorial
Sept. 30 – at Champion
Oct. 7 – Newton Falls
Oct. 14 – at LaBrae
Oct. 21 – at Garfield