Roller-coaster, see-saw and momentum swings were phrases that probably best described the second half of Liberty’s 56-43 victory over Green Valley in the Sunrise Region Championship game Friday night at Freedom Field.
The Patriots started the half with a 22-16 lead. After trading possessions three times, Liberty senior quarterback Tyler Newman connected with senior wide receiver Drew Hladek for a 20-yard touchdown. Green Valley would fumble the ensuing kickoff, leading to a Newman 13-yard touchdown run. Early in the fourth, junior running back Ethan Tuilagi capped off a drive with an 18-yard touchdown run.
The end result: a 43-16 Liberty lead.
But Green Valley, known for dramatic comebacks all season, fought back.
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Junior quarterback Christian Lopez found senior wide receiver Markus Varner on a 13-yard score. After recovering onside kick, Gio Hernandez juggled in a Lopez 17-yard pass for another touchdown. The Gator defense forced Newman into an interception, and the offense opened up the playbook with a Lopez to Kyler Chavez lateral, as the senior wide receiver connected with a wide-open Conor Perkins streaking into the end zone, and the Gators trailed only 43-37.
“In every game, there are ups and downs,” Hladek said, “When the roller coaster goes up, you got to take advantage and seize the moment.”
Liberty answered with a run-heavy drive, capped off by a 10-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Calvin Tubbs and pulled away for its fourth consecutive Sunrise title.
“The game was well-fought,” Liberty senior defensive lineman Jarvis Polu said.
At the half, a big key stat was points off turnovers. Green Valley’s defense had three interceptions of Newman but they resulted in only a touchdown and a field goal. Polu said the defense, specifically the goal-line defense, was spot-on in the first half.
Despite the three interceptions, Newman and Liberty’s offense came out aggressive and throwing in the second half.
“You got to have a short memory,” Newman said. “In the first half, I was down on myself. My coaches talked me up, and after halftime, we got out here and executed.”
Hladek has his first breakout game in a couple weeks, finishing with over 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns. The senior said he had a lot of emotion involved in practice this week, after being disappointed with his performance against Canyon Springs last week.
Two of Newman’s biggest pass plays to start the second half went to Hladek.
“You need to stick to what you do best, because if you take that away, what do you have?” he said.
Liberty will travel north to face Northern Division champion Reed in the Division I State Semifinals on Saturday at 1 p.m.
STORY AND VIDEO BY BARRY WONG