Too much Zombo for Tonka
By David Svoboda PrepsKC staff Writer
Liberty tailback Matthew Zombo rushed for 332 yards and four touchdowns as the Blue Jays overcame a sluggish first three quarters on offense to erupt late for a 27-18 win over Winnetonka in the season opener for both teams.
And to think, just one year ago, Zombo was a receiver. Yep, the Blue Jay star on this night got some touches as a ball carrier in 2011, but they were mainly in sophomore and JV action.
What a coming out party this was.
“He’s a great athlete, and had a great offseason preparing himself for this year,” Liberty coach Chad Frigon said of Zombo. “We just felt with the depth we had at receiver coming in that he could help us more at the running back position. We knew he had a ton of ability.”
That ability was demonstrated on the Jays’ first play from scrimmage of the new year, as Zombo ripped off an 80-yard run to put Liberty on top early 7-0.
But Winnetonka answered with a touchdown of its own just inside of a minute into the second quarter to cut the lead to 7-6 after a missed extra point.
The two defenses then took over, as the teams traded possessions and punts throughout the remainder of the second and third quarters.
All of that just set the tone for a wild final 12 minutes – a period that saw each team get in the end zone on multiple occasions, trading big plays on the ground and through the air.
Zombo started the flurry with a 56-yard scamper in which he made something out of what looked, initially, as if it would be nothing. The PAT made it 14-6 Liberty.
“He’s a great player,” Winnetonka coach Sterling Edwards said of Zombo. “He’s got a lot of speed, and once he got loose, we weren’t going to catch him.”
But to the Griffins’ credit, they quickly answered, with Aaron Mends getting into the end zone for the second time on the night on a 32-yard scamper of his own. A failed two-point try left it at 14-12 with 4:38 left to play. Plenty of time for either team to get the win.
Cue Zombo less than a minute later. His 78-yard burst through a tired, young Winnetonka defense appeared to be the final nail in the Griffin coffin. But a poor snap on the extra point try led to a botched conversion, and Tonka still had life at 20-12.
Yes, after all of Zombo’s heroics, it was still a one-score game.
Just over a minute later, the Griffins were getting that score, with Julious Sabastiano hitting Michael Sellaro with a picture-perfect TD toss from 42 yards out to cut it to 20-18.
That set up a two-point try with 2:41 left that would have allowed Winnetonka to tie the game, if successful.
Did we mention that Zombo also played corner a year ago?
Well, he did on the conversion try in this one, too, and was all over Sellaro as Sabastiano’s pass sailed out of reach.
Winnetonka had taken its best shot, and was still down two with time running out.
Time for Zombo’s curtain call.
With just 1:40 left he added the final 45-yard burst of his impressive night for the final TD of the contest. Game over.
Credit the Liberty offensive line, Zombo said.
“Our linemen went harder and harder as the game progressed,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll get in there, look at film, and we’ll see that continue.”
It was a bit discouraging for Edwards, who saw his Winnetonka team bend but not break for three quarters, only to fall victim to a great individual effort in the final 12 minutes.
“It was a game of big plays,” he said. “We’d stop ‘em, stop ‘em, stop ‘em and then they’d rip one off for 50 or 60 yards for a touchdown.”
Did we mention that the young man “ripping them off” was seeing his first sustained action of tailback? Yep, and it probably won’t be his last.
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