Written by Matt Wixon
Frisco Liberty rolls Wakeland as star running back, Boise State commit Ajayi rests bum ankle
FRISCO - Frisco Liberty running back Jay Ajayi played a little more than a quarter Friday night and spent most of the second half limping around with a protective boot on his ankle. That left his teammates to protect Liberty's undefeated season at Pizza Hut Park.
Ajayi didn't need to worry. Liberty's biggest playmaker was stuck on the sidelines, but Liberty made the biggest plays of the game to rout Frisco Wakeland, 38-3, and earn the District 9-4A title.
"It means the most for us to win as a team," said running back Ben Battiste, who filled in for Ajayi. "We came out as a team and won our first district title."
Liberty (9-0, 6-0 in 9-4A) did it without much trouble, despite Ajayi rushing only 13 times for 85 yards and leaving the game midway through the second quarter. The senior, who is orally committed to Boise State and is one of the state's top running backs, sprained his left ankle. He was prepared to play in the third quarter, but was held out.
"Our defense was playing so well and Battiste stepped up, so we didn't feel we needed to put him back out there," Liberty coach Galen Zimmerman said. "We thought, 'Let's err on the side of caution.' "
Liberty, the No. 3 team in the 4A area rankings, had that luxury against No. 5 Wakeland (7-2, 5-1). Liberty's offense isn't the same without Ajayi, who averages three touchdowns per game and more than 10 yards per rush. But as the senior stretched out on a trainer's table, Liberty stretched its lead with the help of three interceptions, a fumble recovery and big plays on special teams.
Liberty's David Hill made the first big play of the second half, returning a punt 54 yards to set up an 11-yard Battiste touchdown run that gave Liberty a 24-3 lead early in the third quarter. Battiste ran for a second touchdown after an interception by Stan Shepherd and scored a third after Armani Edwards pounced on a Wakeland fumble.
Liberty's defense allowed only 274 yards and put good pressure on Wakeland quarterback Tyler Kirkindoll, who had thrown only six interceptions in his first seven games. The Liberty defense also scored six points when Shepherd returned the first of his two interceptions 31 yards for a touchdown.
"We wanted to be physical and disrupt their rhythm," Zimmerman said. "If you let Kirkindoll stand back there and have time, he'll pick you apart."
Instead, Liberty picked apart, pushed down and ran past Wakeland. And after the game, Zimmerman could smile as he talked about his star running back's ankle.
"He just kind of tweaked it," Zimmerman said. "I think he's going to live."
And even if Ajayi was limping Friday night, his team won't limp into the playoffs.
"Everyone has been questioning us all year," Shepherd said. "We just had to step up and play our best, and we played great."