Stellar first half carries Centennial past Liberty

FRISCO, Texas -- Frisco Centennial showed all the reasons why it's undefeated and favored to win District 9-4A during the first half against Frisco Liberty on Friday.

Centennial's defense smothered Liberty in holding the Redhawks scoreless while dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jordan methodically moved the Titans offense on scoring drives.

Their utter domination in the first half was more than enough to propel the Titans to a 34-13 win at Pizza Hut Park.

"I've never beaten Liberty before in four years," Centennial defensive lineman Chase Appleby said. "It feels great. It feels better than making the playoffs, honestly."

But the second half showed that Centennial (6-0, 3-0 in 9-4A) might still have room to grow. The Titans offense didn't tally a first down after halftime, and two botched punt snaps led to turnovers on downs that set up Liberty in the red zone.

Those two plays allowed Liberty (5-1, 2-1) to gain momentum and score 10 quick points, giving the game a moderate amount of intrigue in the fourth quarter.

"Our game plan was to come out in the second half and to basically go for the jugular," Centennial head coach Mark Howard said. "You have to credit Liberty. They did what they had to do to make it game. It was almost like a tale of two halves."

But the Titans defense came through again. With Liberty trailing 31-10, Aaron Estes popped off a 31-yard run that gave the Redhawks a first-and-goal at the 2.

Centennial stuffed them. And when a personal foul penalty gave Liberty a fresh set of downs at the 4, the Titans stuffed them again to force a field goal. On Liberty's next drive, linebacker Ross Abraham came down with an interception to essentially seal the win for the Titans.

"We had those two bad snaps in the fourth quarter," Howard said. " We were good enough to overcome. Credit the defense."

An injury to quarterback Zach Smith early in the third quarter complicated things for Liberty. Backup Connor Navalta didn't have much luck against Centennial's defense, although the team's running game found life in the second half.

But it's not as if Liberty's offense was doing anything when Smith was behind center. Centennial mauled Liberty from the opening kickoff.

Liberty gained just 45 total yards in the first half, and those were offset by 45 penalty yards. Of Liberty's eight first-half possessions, six were three-and-outs, one was not a three-and-out only because of a facemask penalty and the other was an interception returned for a touchdown by Jordan Miller that gave Centennial a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.

Lakeylon Rice scored on a 2-yard run on Centennial's next possession to give the Titans a 24-0 halftime lead.

"Our defense is tough," Appleby said. "We're not the biggest, but we're the fastest and the strongest."