Liberty football beats Southridge 34-25 for third straight win
Another week, another win?
That's right, the same Liberty football team that struggled mightily transitioning from the 5A into the rough and tumble Metro League last season, is starting to gain a foothold in the upper-echelon of Oregon high school football, and now they're accumulating the wins to prove it.
The Falcons traveled to Southridge and defeated the Skyhawks 34-25 on a cold and foggy Oregon night, and in the process improved to 3-2 in league play, 5-2 overall, and firmly positioned themselves amongst the top-3 of the Metro League.
"That was a heck of a game between two good teams," said Liberty head coach Eric Mahlum. "Southridge had no quit in them, and they just forced us to keep making plays."
Liberty got a big play early from junior receiver Isaac Tsolak, then used a couple sustained drives to build a lead, hang-on through the second and third quarters, then overpower the Skyhawks late en route to their nine-point win and third consecutive overall.
"I love this team," Mahlum said. "They're resilient. I wasn't real nervous on the sidelines and not because of the coaches, but because of the quality of the character of the players out there that just keep finding a way to make things happen. They're just a great bunch of kids."
Tsolak got the Falcons on the board first when the 6-foot receiver caught a quick slant from quarterback Brad Norman, and made one move before finding an opening and sprinting 61 yards to the end zone to give the visitors a 7-0 lead with 11:02 on the first quarter clock. Southridge failed to sustain a drive on their ensuing possession and Liberty quickly drove 64 yards, capped by an Aidan Maloney nine-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0.
However, the Skyhawks answered Liberty's score with their first offensive success story of the night, driving 56 yards in eight plays to pull within 14-6 following a blocked extra point attempt.
Seemingly unfazed, the Falcons responded at the beginning of the second quarter, driving 60 yards by way of Norman's feet rather than his arm. The junior started the drive with a 36-yard scamper, then ended it with consecutive runs inside the Southridge five, culminating with his one-yard plunge that gave Liberty a 21-6 lead.
It appeared at that point that the game was about to get away from a seemingly overmatched Skyhawk squad, but to their credit they found a way to right the ship and go 60 yards in just six plays, and after a failed two-point conversion attempt, were within 21-12.
Liberty went three-and-out on their next possession, then appeared on the verge of allowing another Southridge score before defensive back Nikolaus Reitzug intercepted Skyhawk quarterback Bradley Bickler in the end zone.
"That was a heck of a play by Nikolaus," said Mahlum. "And the first of two big plays we got from our defense and special teams."
The special teams play of which he spoke occurred after the Falcons were forced to punt from their own 28-yard line. Southridge's Darik Salinas muffed the return and Reitzug knocked the ball from the pile and teammate Ben Lyman dove on it at the Skyhawks 31 yard line, setting-up Norman's second score of the night and giving Liberty a 27-12 halftime lead.
Southridge however came to play in the second half, scoring on consecutive possessions to start the third quarter. The first on a 29-yard pass from Bickler to Keyvaun Eady, and the second on a short run to pull the Skyhawks within 27-25, capping a drive sparked by a 56-yard Eady to Connor Fajardo pass play. But the Falcons, faced with the type of adversity that often cripples teams when it matters most, fought in the face of that adversity and salted the game away with a six-play, 57-yard drive entirely on the ground to take a 34-25 lead.
The Skyhawks threatened on their next possession, but had their desperate hopes dashed when Bickler was stripped by a trailing Maloney on a 35-yard scramble with three minutes remaining to put the finishing touches on the big Liberty road win.
"That play epitomizes what this team's about," said Mahlum. "These guys never quit and always keep going. Those are the things that happen when you have guys that always keep competing."
The win was the third consecutive for Liberty since back-to-back losses to Jesuit and Sunset, all of which have come against Beaverton schools.
"Were playing a lot better and we're playing as units opposed to individuals," Mahlum said. "We had to really look ourselves in the mirror after those Jesuit and Sunset games because we weren't playing well together. But we made adjustments and guys took it to heart, and now we're playing unit-strong and the guys have really bought-in."
And Maloney agreed with his coach.
"I think weve definitely come together and are clicking as a team," said the junior standout. "And I think it's really paying off both offensively and defensively on the field."
Liberty is scheduled to host Century Oct. 20 at 7pm.