West Valley Preps

Liberty can’t answer second-half bell in flag-filled 26-21 loss to Queen Creek

Lions allow 26 straight points after leading 12-0

Posted 10/16/21

PEORIA — To beat elite football teams, you’ve got to play disciplined, manage the elements and avoid costly turnovers.

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West Valley Preps

Liberty can’t answer second-half bell in flag-filled 26-21 loss to Queen Creek

Lions allow 26 straight points after leading 12-0

Posted

PEORIA — To beat elite football teams, you’ve got to play disciplined, manage the elements and avoid costly turnovers.

Unfortunately for the Liberty Lions, they checked those boxes in only the first half of a frustrating, penalty-filled 26-21 defeat to the Queen Creek Bulldogs on a blustery Homecoming Friday night at Lions Field.

“We probably should’ve had a couple more scores in the first half and had a bigger lead,” Liberty Head Coach Colin Thomas lamented after the defeat. “They just flipped the momentum and took control. We hurt ourselves with penalties and put ourselves in a difficult position.”

Liberty’s defense dominated the first 24 minutes, shutting out the Bulldogs (ranked #3 in 6A and Open) as the Lions jumped out to a 12-0 halftime lead. But Queen Creek completely flipped the script in the second half, running off 26 straight points before Liberty made a last-ditch comeback effort that fell just short.

The only thing more prevalent than the wind were the penalties, as officials called a mind-boggling 29 penalties in the game — 20 against Liberty. It seemed as if there was laundry on the field after every play of a fourth quarter that took nearly an hour to complete.

Thomas, seen during the game arguing several calls, could only shake his head after the game when told how many times his team was flagged.

“When’s the last time you saw something like that?” he asked.

Queen Creek Head Coach Travis Schureman was proud of the way his Bulldogs bounced back.

“Our kids never panicked,” Schureman said. “We got after them a bit at halftime and they got the message.”

At kickoff, a steady 15-25 mph wind was howling from north to south across the field. Backed by a jam-packed Homecoming crowd, the Lions (ranked #6 in 6A, #10 in Open) frustrated the visiting Bulldogs in the opening two stanzas. The Lions’ D slowed QC’s powerful offense, forcing three punts early on.

Meanwhile, the Liberty offense cashed in with a 17-yard TD run by Jaqua Anderson and a 24-yard touchdown pass from Dom Ochoa to Grant Brunelle:

The Lions missed a two-point conversion and a PAT after each respective score, leaving them with just a 12-0 lead at the 9:52 mark of the second quarter.

Liberty defensive standout Jax Stam forced and recovered a fumble by Bulldogs QB Sebastian Tomerlin later in the quarter, but a potential third Lions touchdown went by the wayside when Anderson fumbled at the Queen Creek 1 yard line.

From the sidelines, it appeared Anderson’s knee was down before he lost the ball but officials ruled the play a fumble — the chance for a three-score lead was gone.

“Was his knee down there? We’ll have to take a look,” Thomas said. “But you just can’t turn the ball over, especially in the red zone.”

The Lions immediately picked up Anderson as defensive back Noah Gutierrez intercepted an errant Tomerlin pass to keep Liberty up by 12 at halftime.

As the wind continued to howl and the temperature dropped, momentum quickly shifted to the visiting sideline to start the third quarter.

Queen Creek executed an eight-play, 65-yard drive led by bruising running back Payton Barlow. Barlow carried three times, including a 6-yard TD run where he appeared to fumble but officials ruled he had crossed the goal line:

Liberty’s Anthony Ruiz blocked the PAT and the Lions held a 12-6 lead at the 8:51 mark of the third.

The Lions suffered a three-and-out and following an 11-yard punt against a stiff wind, Queen Creek grabbed the lead. A three-play, 33-yard drive ended with Barlow motoring around the right side for a 16-yard score. Kolten Ford connected on the point after and the Bulldogs led 13-12 with 6:07 left in the third.

Liberty could get nothing going against the wind on offense but QC’s momentum was paused when the Lions’ Wesley Grim picked off Tomerlin near the end of the third.

The Lions again punted and Tomerlin made them pay, burning the Liberty secondary with a 47-yard TD bomb to Kirice Blakley. Queen Creek had scored 20 straight points and led 20-12 with 11 minutes left in the game.

“We had them in a couple third and long plays and we couldn’t finish it,” Stam explained. “We made some errors and we have to be more disciplined.”

Liberty’s next two possessions ended with a lost fumble and a fourth-down incompletion. After Barlow punched in a 3-yard TD run, QC led 26-12 with 3:44 left and the Lions were on the ropes.

That’s when things got a bit crazy.

Ochoa was intercepted inside the QC 20 and a fight broke out back near where the ball was thrown. At least two players were ejected in the melee.

Backed up against their own goal line on fourth down, the Bulldogs then elected to take a self-safety at the 1:24 mark to bring Liberty within 26-14.

After the kickoff, Liberty used seven plays in just 45 seconds before Ochoa dove in for a 2-yard score. Ethan Vandevoorde hit the PAT to make it 26-21.

Needing to recover an onside kick with 38.5 seconds left, the Lions nearly pulled off the feat.

The bounding kick bounced off a Bulldog player’s hands but no Lions could snare it before Queen Creek recovered.

“I saw the ball bounce and we had a chance at it,” Thomas said.

The Queen Creek sideline was holding its collective breath.

“That was really close,” Schureman said.

New rankings come out Tuesday and at this point it appears Liberty will be right on the edge of hosting a first-round 6A playoff game. The two losses for Liberty (4-2) are to the teams currently ranked #1 and #3 in the Open Division rankings.

Stam said the Lions need to get over the loss and work to get better with region opponents Chaparral (Friday, Oct. 22), Pinnacle, Brophy and Centennial looming.

“It’s not going to get any easier,” he admitted.

Queen Creek (6-0, 2-0) will host #1 and nationally-ranked Chandler on Friday, Oct. 22.

“We’re gonna take it one at a time, enjoy this one and get back to work,” Schureman said.

Thomas, who let loose with a fiery postgame speech to his Lions, said his team has no choice but to improve if they want to reach their season goals.

“You know our kids are always going to fight. This was an ugly game but the bottom line is we have to get better if we want to win games against top 5 opponents,” Thomas said.

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