There's an old adage that says "better late than never." But late was too late for the Liberty Falcons in a 31-27 loss to North Medford Friday night, Sept. 24, at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.
The home Falcons (2-2) fell behind 24-7 early in the fourth quarter of their game against the Black Tornado, but quarterback Hiro Diamond led a furious Liberty comeback that ended with North Medford's Bryce Dyer intercepting a Diamond throw at the near pylon with four seconds remaining on the clock, essentially ending the game and with it the hopes of the Falcons faithful.
"We were trying to run a switch route between the two wideouts trying to beat the deep safety," a dejected Diamond said. "I saw him vacate towards the inside seam so I threw it outside, but it turned out he didn't vacate and made a great play."
Dyer acknowledged his concern over the Liberty drive and the situation at the end of the game, but added that he recognized the route scheme and chose to jump it â€“ which ultimately paid-off.
"My guy was inside and I knew I had safety help so I decided I was going to make a play on the wheel if he threw it there," Dyer said. "It got thrown right to me and I made the play."
The interception was Dyer's second of the game and just half of his production for North Medford. The 6-foot-5 senior was also instrumental on the offensive side of the ball as well, catching five balls for 119 yards and two touchdowns, the first of which put the Black Tornado (2-1) ahead 10-7 midway through the third quarter.
Dyer caught a quick out from quarterback Mason Warren, turned, made a jab step inside, then left the Liberty defensive back grasping for air as he darted up the sideline 49 yards for the score. It was an impressive move, but not an unexpected one for the self-proclaimed "juker."
"I'm definitely more of a juker than someone who's going to run you over," Dyer said with a chuckle. "I was getting tired running up that sideline and I think I had the slowest stiff arm of all-time there at the end, but I made it."
Dyer's score was the first of three straight for North Medford â€“ who trailed 7-3 at the half â€“ and two straight for the lanky receiver who followed his first interception of the game with a second touchdown, this one and 8-yard grab to make it 17-7 with 1:10 remaining in the third quarter.
Following a Liberty fumble on their next possession, the Black Tornado wasted little time cashing-in the Falcons turnover, scoring two plays later on a Ty Pugliano 11-yard touchdown run to make it 24-7.
All seemed lost for Liberty at that point, but the Falcons had other ideas.
The home team went 83 yards in five plays, capped by a 10-yard Diamond run around the right end to make it 24-14.
On their next possession the Falcons drove 60 yards with Diamond completing five consecutive passes to four different receivers before again using his legs to finish things, this time rushing three yards up the middle to cut the lead to 24-20 after a failed conversion attempt.
After a nifty onside kick recovered by sophomore Tanner Steinbach, the comeback appeared complete when Diamond connected with Vincent Cabezudo from 10 yards out to put Liberty ahead 27-24 with 5:04 left in the fourth quarter. But what was giveth, was quickly taken away when on North Medford's next possession Warren hit Aj Pugliano on a seam route for a 52-yard score, and the Black Tornado regained the lead 31-27 with 3:47 to go â€“ easing the concerns of Dyer and the North Medford faithful.
"I think we got a little too comfortable and lost our focus for a little bit," Dyer said. "It was a little scary there for a while, but I think we did a great job of coming back, regaining our focus and making some plays that were huge."
And they still had one more to make.
After Liberty turned the ball over on downs on their next possession and North Medford took three knees before punting to the Falcons 40 yard line, the home team had 28 seconds to try and make something happen.
A first down pass interference penalty moved the ball to the Black Tornado's 45 yard line, then a 21-yard pass to Nathan Smith set the Falcons up at the 24-yard line with :14 left. Diamond's first attempt at the end zone sailed high across the middle, and the game ended a play later with Dyer's interception.
Liberty head coach Eric Mahlum couldn't put his finger on his team's slow start, but took responsibility for their early mistakes. In the end however, the coach said it's those types of mistakes that put you in a hole, which make it nearly impossible to beat teams the quality of North Medford.
"You can't play a team like this and make mistakes," Mahlum said. "They had the momentum, then we had it and when we got started our kids got fired up and you could see what happened. Unfortunately, it was too late."
Nonetheless, the coach was proud of his kids and pleased that they continued to fight.
"I'm always proud of my kids," Mahlum said. "They could've been left for dead when North went up 17 points. A lot of teams rollover at that point and these guys didn't."
And Diamond reiterated both his coach's frustration and pride in his group, adding that they'll continue working and be ready for league play next week.
"There are some lows and highs in this game," Diamond said. "We had a nice comeback, but obviously we didn't finish. Now it's time to get ready for league."
Diamond finished with 330 yards passing and 95 yards on the ground, accounting for four touchdowns and two interceptions.
In addition to Dyer, Aj Pugliano caught five balls for 123 yards and a touchdown for North Medford.
Liberty will host Glencoe at 7 p.m. next Friday, Oct. 1, at Liberty High School.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.