Air Academy vs. Liberty

Air Academy’s Sam Beers celebrates his third touchdown of the game with teammates in a 50-20 victory Friday over Liberty.

Jamon Ehrig didn’t know that he’d ever get to touch a football again. So when the opportunity arrived, he made it count – for six.

On the opening kickoff of a senior season he almost didn’t have, Ehrig returned the kick 80 yards for a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me moment in a long-delayed, bizarre atmosphere at Air Academy High School.

The Kadets used that momentum, along with two touchdowns off turnovers in the final minute of the first half, to cruise past Liberty 50-20 at the K-Dome on Friday night where students socially distanced in the stands and the postgame handshake was more of a long-distance salute.

“Being able to take that and kind of be able to set the tone for the season felt great,” said Ehrig, who also pulled in a one-handed interception as part of the flurry just before halftime.

Ehrig had returned kickoffs for 50 yards or so, but had never taken one into the end zone. In coach Scott Grinde’s five years at the helm for Air Academy, he couldn’t remember one being returned for a score. And it happened in this setting, after COVID-19 first took the season away before a reversal opened the door for this early-October opening night.

“That was amazing,” said Kadets running back Sam Beers, who scored three touchdowns – two rushing and one receiving. “I was sitting on the sideline. I saw the ball this get kicked and I was just like, ‘This baby’s going home.’ It was insane.”

Beers, who ran for 1,805 yards as a sophomore, ran 24 times for 206 yards according to unofficial statistics compiled by The Gazette. A seven-game schedule will make this a difficult season to replicate big stats, but he started in a way that gives him a chance.

“It’s not that important,” Beers said. “It’s all about the team win.”

Air Academy jumped ahead 16-0 with scores from Ehrig and Luke Farrington – who scored two touchdowns in the game – and a safety on a high snap on a Liberty punt attempt. The Lancers then closed the gap to 16-7 on a 5-yard Bryson Williams touchdown that was set up by a 42-yard pass from Aidan Swanson to William Winters.

Liberty then got the ball back with less than 2 minutes remaining in the half and a chance to tighten the gap. But a fumble and an interception led to two quick scores.

“What they do, they do well,” said Lancers coach Erick Gossage, who coached in the game less than a week after the death of his father, Stan. “They’re physical. We had some young guys who got their first varsity experience, kind of got a taste of what it is."

Liberty scored on its first possession of the second half and later had a kick return for a touchdown in the second half from Mustafa Doria, but Air Academy had answers for everything. Sophomore quarterback Braden Dougherty threw for three scores on what, according to statistics in MaxPreps, were the first three completed passes of his career. Giovanni Del’Pontone went over 100 yards in total offense and caught a 49-yard touchdown.

“It’s going to get harder and harder,” Grinde said. “We’ve got to keep playing hard and focus on the process.”