By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
ULYSSES — Flashes of brilliance lit up the Southwest Kansas sky Friday night as well as on the field at Ulysses. But in the end, Josh Jarnigan outshined them all to lead the Tigers to a 42-20 win over Liberal to spoil Cliff Abbott’s debut as head coach of the Redskins.
The momentum on the field shifted as often as the wind direction changed Friday night, and Jarnigan played a key role in helping make that happen, starting with the first time he touched the ball.
Liberal’s opening kick off landed in Jarnigan’s hands, and after five Redskins had a chance to make a tackle short of the 20 yard line, Jarnigan swiveled by the would-be tacklers and scampered 93 yards for a Tiger touchdown.
But the lightning strike on the first play didn’t stun the Redskins.
After the teams traded punts, the Redskins drive stalled and a punt to Jarnigan was stripped, picked up by Trenton Hammond and returned 36 yards for a touchdown and a 7-6 Liberal lead.
The Redskins added another touchdown later in the quarter when sophomore quarterback Britton Abbott found Hammond on a short reception, then Hammond scampered the rest of the way for a 53-yard touchdown nd a 14-6 Liberal lead.
Liberal’s defense shut down the Tiger running game early, and the Tigers went to the air on their next possession.
Tiger quarterback Braden Langston threw a pass to Chase Newel, and Redskin safety J.J. Lewis attempted to make a play on the ball rather than the receiver. The ball sailed over the head of Lewis and into Newel’s arms, and with no Redskins to defend him, Newel sprinted 71 yards to the end zone to tie the game at 14.
Liberal appeared to be on the march to regain the lead by rushing the ball to the Tiger 45 yard line to set up a third and three as time expired in the first quarter.
But lightning caused a delay that lasted about an hour.
“We were told that we would have a 30-minute delay,” Abbott said. “When it was close to that time, we got up and started going, and then they told us there was another delay. Maybe we were getting up and down too much.”
When play finally resumed, Liberal ran a toss sweep to Isaac Gallegos, but he was dropped for a three-yard loss, and the Redskins were forced to punt.
Later in the quarter, another Redskin drive stalled, and Jarnigan again made his presence known. The ball dropped close to the Redskin 45 yard line, and after it hopped, Jarnigan grabbed it and headed straight to the Tiger sideline. A wall of Tiger defenders was set up, and Jarnigan sprinted to the end zone for his second special team touchdown of the game and a 21-14 Tiger lead.
Liberal attempted to maintain possession at the Ulysses 43 on a fourth-and-six, but Abbott was stopped short on a scramble, and the Tigers took over with two minutes to play in the half.
Ulysses put together a nine-play, 57 yard scoring drive that ended with a touchdown run from the 3 yard line by Jarnigan with 5.5 seconds to play in the half. Langston completed five of six passes on the drive, and Ulysses took a 28-14 lead into the half.
The Redskins had an opportunity to cut into the lead on the first drive of the second half, but a drive that reached the Tiger 14 stalled on two mishandled snaps and an incomplete pass.
Ulysses used big passing plays to extend their lead, and the Redskins tacked on a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but Jarnigan was too much for the Redskin defense in the 42-20 loss.
“We were flat in the second quarter,” Abbott said. “Before that, we were moving the ball and I think our conditioning was starting to show before the weather delay. I think we got too excited too early.”
Jarnigan rushed for 82 yards on 21 carries and caught three passes for 28 yards. But it was his 138 special teams yards that really hurt the Redskins.
“He is a great player,” Abbott said. “I respect him. They got him the ball and he got it done.”
Liberal’s leading rusher was Abbott who carried the ball 18 times for 45 yards. Justin McPhail had five carries for 27 yards.
Liberal (0-1) will host Guymon Friday and will look to even up the record.
“There is excitement in our community,” Abbott said. “We will prepare to play for four quarters next week, and I don’t care if there is a rain delay, heat wave — whatever, we don’t care. We will be ready.”