The big goal for Liberty this season: state. At the half of Friday night’s Sunrise regional semifinal playoff game against Canyon Springs, the Patriots were 24 minutes away from falling short of that goal.
“(Coach Rich Muraco said) They’re only up by one touchdown,” senior wide receiver Deseon Mcquaig said. “Keep fighting, and we’ll prevail.”
The Patriots defense pitched a shutout over those remaining 24 minutes and Liberty rallied to pull out a 24-21 victory over the Pioneers
Liberty will host Green Valley, which defeated Las Vegas 47-34, Friday in the Sunrise Regional championship.
Early in the fourth quarter, Liberty quarterback Tyler Newman found Mcquaig on a play-action pass for the game-tying 48-yard touchdown.
“My coach, my quarterback, they set me up for the perfect play,” Mcquaig said.
Liberty then capped off a nice drive with 35-yard field goal from Austin Fitzgerald late in the fourth quarter that ended up being the game winner.
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Liberty trailed 21-14 at the break after Canyon Springs quarterback Brad Alexander II connected with wide receiver Jordan Davis on 52-yard touchdown and the Pioneers successfully added a 2-point conversion late in the first half.
Muraco told his team in the locker room that stopping big plays would be a big key in the second half.
Canyon Springs’ first big play came on its second play of the game, as running back Zaviontay Stevenson broke away on an outside sweep for a 78-yard score. The touchdown answered a 4-yard TD run from running back Ethan Tuilagi that capped off Liberty’s opening drive of the game.
The Patriots regained the lead on a Newman-to-Mcquaig 24-yard touchdown connection in the middle of the first quarter.
Other than the two McQuaig scores and long pass from Newman to tight end Noah Jefferson on its opening drive, Liberty stayed with the ground game most of the way.
“We knew that they were a very good defense, and they’ve shown the ability to stop various offenses throughout the year,” Muraco said. “We kind of pride ourselves on the multiple things we can do. Our game plan was really to change it up, run different formations, give them different looks, go with a faster tempo so they couldn’t get their defensive calls in.”
Another Stevenson long run set up the Pioneers second touchdown of the first half. On fourth down, Alexander connected with running back Marck Cassino on a 5-yard pass early in the second quarter to cut the Liberty lead to 14-13.
In the second half, the Patriots defense kept Stevenson in check, and the unit ended the game by forcing Alexander out of bounds on a fourth-and-18 play with under a minute remaining in the game.
In the Sunset Regional first round games, Bishop Gorman topped Spring Valley 56-0, while Arbor View beat Legacy 40-0. On the opposite bracket, Centennial defeated Shadow Ridge 50-13, and Palo Verde won against Cimarron-Memorial 42-20.
STORY AND VIDEO BY BARRY WONG