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Pacers force five turnovers and score the first points vs. the Falcons in 2021.

PMG PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Lakeridge senior Dallas Kuenzi — he had two interceptions on Friday, Sept.17, against Liberty — races upfield during his team's third straight victory.Let's be honest — stats aren't everything.

By way of example, let's look at the Friday, Sept. 17, football game between Liberty and Lakeridge.

The Falcons racked up more yards on the ground, more yards through the air, more first downs and dominated time of possession — but they also got worked by the Pacers, eventually dropping a 42-13 decision at Lakeridge High School.

On their side of the ledger, the Pacers forced five turnovers and scored three times on plays of 45 yards or longer to leave Liberty far behind.

"It was fun," said Lakeridge senior running back and safety Jake Reichle, who carried seven times for 101 yards and one touchdown and also intercepted a pass and returned it 45 yards for another score. "We all played great and we played as a team. Our defense did great."

"Liberty is a great team, they have a great offense and they ran it well, but the defense just came out on top," said Pacer senior defensive back Dallas Kuenzi, who picked off the Falcons' first two passes of the game to set up his team's first two touchdowns. "We played well as a team and the offense scored."

With the win, the Pacers' third straight, Lakeridge improved to 3-0 overall, while the Falcons lost for the first time, saw their two-game winning streak snapped and fell to 2-1 overall.

"Obviously, it wasn't the result we wanted, but it's just something we can learn from," said Liberty senior quarterback Hiro Diamond, who rushed 26 times for 112 yards and one TD, and completed 9 of 19 passes for 118 yards with four interceptions. "We're just going to get back. It's still early in the season so all we can do is learn from it, fix some stuff and then we'll just come back ready to go."

"It was kind of unfortunate. I just don't think we were prepared," said Falcon junior running back Nathan Smith, who carried eight times for 43 yards on Friday. "After the (interceptions), if we could have gotten a goal line stop right here, one of the two times, if we could have gotten a stop, it really could have changed the whole game."

Lakeridge 42, Liberty 13

For Lakeridge, the defensive hits started early and just kept coming. Kuenzi got things started when he picked off a Diamond pass on the second play from scrimmage and returned it 13 yards to the Liberty 10-yard line.

Then, on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, Reichle went over right tackle and muscled into the end zone — carrying Liberty's Cade Hammond on his back for five yards — for a 7-0 lead just 2 minutes, 6 seconds into the game.

Then, less than three minutes later, Kuenzi stepped up again, intercepting a tipped Diamond pass near midfield.

"We were just great in coverage. It's a team thing," said Kuenzi, who now has three interceptions in three games. "I was just in the right spot at the right time."

The Pacers converted that turnover into another TD just 12 seconds later when junior quarterback Ryan Oliver hit sophomore wide receiver Joey Olsen for a 45-yard score and a 14-0 lead with 6:34 to go in the opening period.

The Falcons answered with a 57-yard drive highlighted by a 20-yard Diamond run and a 37-yard Diamond completion to junior wide receiver Parker Viner before the Falcons settled for a 23-yard field goal from senior Kane McNabb that cut the Pacer lead to 14-3.

Undaunted, Lakeridge responded just one minute later, getting a 74-yard kick return by junior Lucas Burkeen, and two plays later, a 9-yard touchdown pass from Oliver to Reichle at the right flag for a 21-3 edge with 2:15 to go in the period.

Liberty came back with an 80-yard scoring drive that spanned 5:40 of the first and second quarters, with Smith carrying three times for 20 yards and Diamond seven times for 31 yards, including a 4-yard TD burst up the middle that brought the Falcons within 21-10.

Then, after Liberty got a key stop, the Falcons — with a chance to move within one score — saw Diamond's third-and-13 pass picked off by Reichle and returned 45 yards for a touchdown and a 28-10 lead near the end of the half.

To its credit, Liberty kept playing hard in the second half, getting an interception by Xavier Cherney-Womack on the Pacers' opening possession, then marching 57 yards before settling for a 27-yard McNabb field goal and a 28-13 deficit.

As it had throughout the first half, though, Lakeridge responded — and responded quickly. In this case, Reichle took a first-down handoff from Oliver, went up the middle, broke a tackle, cut to the right and sped 73 yards to score for a 35-13 edge with less than five minutes left in the third period.

"It's a lot of fun," Reichle said. "I just prep a lot every week, do what coach tells me and our O-line played great tonight. They made some great blocks for me so I could score."

Then, to cap the night, Lakeridge senior Zachary Larson ended the Falcons' next series with another interception and a long return to the Liberty 12-yard line. Five plays later, Oliver ran a draw up the middle for a 7-yard TD and the final 42-13 margin with 11:45 left in the game.

"Our defense definitely set the tempo, the mood for the game," said Lakeridge senior defensive end Nui Tovey, who had one sack in the win. "We just work really hard at practice. Our coach really (emphasizes us) being disciplined and playing sharp and playing as a unit."

For Liberty, the Falcons know they just need to learn from the loss, move on from it and, hopefully, get back into the "W" column.

"We've just got to move on to the next game," Smith said. "We can't let this game determine how the rest of the games are played. We'll work on what we need to do … and we'll come back 10 times better."

For the game, Oliver went 6 of 10 passing for 76 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, with Olsen catching one pass for 45 yards and a sore.

For Liberty, Viner led Falcons' receivers with one catch for 37 yards.

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