In many ways it was a typical Liberty-Sunrise Mountain football thriller - 43 second-half points and four lead changes in the final 14 minutes.
But this rendition saw some role reversals. On Oct. 16, the Lions grabbed an early 17-3 lead with an explosive offense only to see the Mustangs rally in the second half with big plays on defense and special teams plus a physical offensive line and punishing running game.
Trailing 33-30 with 10 minutes left, Sunrise Mountain (3-0) went on a methodical go-ahead drive of nearly eight minutes. After senior quarterback Travis Ward saw an opening and took off for a 9-yard run on fourth and seven, senior running back Tommy Arnold took it from there with the final 37 yards on five straight carries - including a five-yard touchdown run he finished falling backward into the end zone.
"When (Travis) got the first down we knew we needed to keep grinding," Arnold said. "The offensive line was great and we needed to score to finish it off. After we got the touchdown the celebration started."
Liberty (1-2) looked poised to regain the lead following a 27-yard pass from senior quarterback Brock Mast to junior receiver Jordon Guevara. But senior safety/tailback Brandon Bogard sacked Mast and forced a fumble on the next play and senior defensive tackle Andrew Berglund recovered on the Lions' 39.
Three runs and three Liberty time outs followed. Sunrise Mountain sealed its 37-33 win on a play that was classic Steve Decker, a 32-yard post on fourth and 6 from Ward to senior receiver Ezekiel Marshall.
"We ran the same thing a few years ago and would have won the game if it was caught," Coach Decker said. "In a pressure situation Travis stepped up really nicely and delivered a great ball to Zeke."
His veteran team nearly had its doors blown off early. Mast hit a streaking senior receiver Cailin Knapp in stride for an 80-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
Sophomore tailback Zach Wallace broke loose for 34 yards to set up his 1-yard touchdown plunge and a 14-0 Lions lead less than 10 minutes in. The teams traded field goals, then Sunrise Mountain settled down.
Liberty sophomore running back Zach Wallace plunges in for a 1-yard touchdown and 13-0 lead over Sunrise Mountain in the first half. Wallace led the Lions with 93 yards on four carries. [Stephen Andert/For West Valley Preps]
A line led by four returning starters began to get a push for Bogard and Arnold, who combined for 39 yards on five carries. On third and goal a minute before halftime, Ward received a clean pocket and senior receiver Chase Birdsong broke open in the back of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown and 17-10 score at the break.
"It got us within a score and we were getting the ball in the second half. It settled everybody down and got that game where it should have been," Decker said.
The Mustangs capitalized on a third quarter muffed punt, with Bogard recovering it at the Lions' 14. Five runs later, Arnold pounded it in from the 1.
Shane Pitts sacked Ward to maintain a 17-16 Liberty lead. Knapp, who transferred in from Sunrise Mountain last year, returned the ensuing kickoff 57 yards to set up Pitts' 40-yard field goal.
"Our seniors, Shane and Cailin, Ryan Lanning, Kyle Sfarcioc and Ryan Wolfer, those guys work hard every day and lead this group . We're going to keep working and get better. It's not the first time we ever lost a game here. We always respond positively and we expect to keep doing that," Liberty caoch Colin Thomas said.
The visitors grabbed their first lead 14 seconds later. After a Liberty kickoff just bounced out at the 1, Sunrise Mountain elected to take a re-kick and Bogard returned that 84 yards for a touchdown and 23-20 advantage.
Liberty stormed back in 67 seconds. Wallace galloped 55 yards and two plays later, Mast lofted an easy 19-yard scoring toss to uncovered sophomore receiver Grant Brunelle.
The extra point sailed left. Yet at 26-23 the Lions defense forced a quick three and out and appeared to have regained momentum five seconds from the end of the quarter.
Senior linebacker/cornerback Micah Scott swooped in with the play of the game. Scott leaped to pick off Mast, landed in bounds and sprinted down the sidelines for a 43-yard touchdown return and 30-26 Sunrise Mountian lead as the quarter ended.
"He got beat the series before. We talked and he came up and made a huge play," Decker said. "He's that hybrid. It worried us a little bit with Steven Hoffman out with the collarbone. We had to make some adjustments and the defensive staff did a phenomenal job this week."
A personal foul moved Liberty to the Mustangs' 30 and Mast drilled senior tight end Wolfer for 25 on a crossing pattern. The quarterback kept a zone read for a five-yard score and 33-30 lead with 10:12 left in the game.
"Ultimately, they just made a couple more plays than we did. You can't give up 14 points in the second hal on a pick six and kickoff return. They're a good team and earned the win tonight," Thomas said.
The Mustangs' ground game took over from there. Despite also playing regularly at linebacker and not carrying the ball in the first quarter, Arnold finished the night with 109 yards on 22 totes.
The offensive line also paved the way for senior Julian Esber (12 carries, 52 yards). Sunrise Mountain stayed undefeated and ended a two-loss streak to its rival.
"We have a lot of varsity experience. Last week we had a good game in the trenches against Mesquite that actually helped us tonight. Arnold said. "We were down 14-0 and we got together and said we are still going to win this game. The offense played phenomenally and the defense stepped up with some big plays."
Sunrise Mountain senior defensive tackle Andrew Berglund (at right) leaps into the air after recovering a Liberty fumble in the final two minutes of the Mustangs' 37-33 win Oct. 16 in Peoria. [Stephen Andert/For West Valley Preps]