Last-second play highlights 15-14 win over visiting Trojans
By Don Nelson
The Mountain Lions run the play every day in practice — a fake extra-point kick, with the holder instead jumping up to loft a pass toward the end zone.
The risky play worked to perfection, with but one second left on the game clock, as the Liberty Bell High School football team pulled off an astonishing 15-14 upset over Manson at the Mountain Lions’ homecoming game last Friday (Oct. 20).
Manson came into the game ranked fifth in the state with a 6-0 record, while the Mountain Lions were 2-5. What’s more, the Trojans whipped Liberty Bell 48-0 last year.
A stubborn bend-but-don’t-break Mountain Lion defense, and touchdowns at the very end of the second and fourth quarters after Manson miscues, carried Liberty Bell to victory.
It could have gone the other way. Liberty Bell’s dramatic second touchdown, on a pass from quarterback Tanner White to Brady Moriarty, left the Mountain Lions trailing 14-13 with that one solitary second left and a decision to make: go for the tie, or the win.
In a time-out huddle after the touchdown, Liberty Bell coach Bob Bucsko related, receiver Finlay Holston said that Manson would likely send four rushers to his side of the line — potentially leaving him open for a pass. Bucsko called the fake extra point play, which goes by the code name “fire” in the Mountain Lions’ practice sessions.
Manson appeared to be expecting a kick. White, the holder, and placekicker Owen Hevly sold it with Oscar-worthy acting before White popped up and found Holston — the tallest Liberty Bell player — drifting to the left side of the end zone. Holston outleapt everyone around him for the catch. The two-point conversion capped a long drive in the last four minutes of the game after Liberty Bell recovered a Manson fumble.
The home crowd, as the cliché goes, went wild. But there was still a kickoff to come, and with no time left Manson pulled out all the stops with a series of wild laterals before Liberty Bell contained the Trojans.
Then there was no holding back the Mountain Lion fans, who surged onto the field to surround the Liberty Bell players. It was a loud and happy celebration.
“This game will be a lifetime memory for the players, fans and coaches,” Bucsko said. “In my 40-plus years of coaching, this game is one that will be hard to outdo.”
Manson takes early lead
It didn’t start out promisingly for Liberty Bell. Manson used up almost the entire first quarter on a long, sustained drive before scoring with just over a minute left. The Trojans converted on a couple of fourth-down plays along the way. Liberty Bell’s first touch of the ball came on a long kickoff return by Josh Dinham. The quarter ended with Manson up 8-0.
The Mountain Lions couldn’t move the ball, and Manson came back with a couple of long passes for another touchdown with about nine minutes left in the half. Fatefully, the Trojans’ extra-point attempt failed, and Manson was done scoring for the night.
Finally, after stopping Manson on downs, the Mountain Lions got on the scoreboard as the half ended when running back Seth Stevie burst over the right side and scampered into the end zone. The teams went into the locker room with Manson up, 14-7.
Stevie stayed on the field and traded his football helmet for a crown. He was the homecoming king and took part in the halftime ceremonies in his grass-stained uniform, escorting elegantly dressed homecoming queen Lauren Ochoa.
Liberty Bell’s first drive in the third quarter ended on downs, deep in Manson territory. The Mountain Lion defense held, but the Trojans had some trickery of their own: a fake punt on fourth down resulted in a long run and a first down. A subsequent field goal attempt by Manson failed, and the third quarter ended at 14-7, Trojans.
Liberty Bell recovered a Manson fumble late in the fourth quarter, and was helped by a 15-yard penalty for a horse-collar tackle on Stevie by a Manson defender. Tanner White connected with Brayden White for a 34-yard gain and first down, and the Mountain Lions worked their way to the Manson 16-yard line. There, they faced a crucial fourth down with about 25 seconds left in the game but converted on another pass that took them to the 5-yard line with 6 seconds left. Tanner White found Moriarty in the end zone for the touchdown pass that set up the last-second decision.
Stevie led the Liberty Bell ground game with 77 yards on 15 carries. Tanner White completed seven of nine passes for 82 yards. Holston and Moriarty had three catches each.
On defense, Magnus Treise was a constant presence with 10 unassisted tackles, six assisted tackles and a forced fumble. Tanner White had seven unassisted tackles, and Holston and Reid Wengerd added six apiece. Stevie batted down two Manson passes and Brayden White swatted away another to help frustrate the Manson air attack.
“What a great group,” Bucsko said after the game. “What could be more wonderful than to win your homecoming game against a ranked team?”
Liberty Bell’s last game of the season will be at South Whidbey on Friday (Oct. 27).
Liberty Bell 15, Manson 14
Manson 8 6 0 0 14 Liberty Bell 0 7 0 8 15