Liberty bends, but doesn't break in 42-21 win over Century
Winning football games isn't easy, but losing them the way Liberty lost last week to Glencoe is even harder. So shortly following the Falcons' win over Century Friday, Oct. 18, at Liberty High School, Liberty head coach Eric Mahlum was all smiles and ready to put last week's loss to the Tide behind them.
"It was important for us to get back out there and realize we're still the same team that we thought we were," Mahlum said. "We had a rough game, but it's not like all of a sudden we're something else. We're still the Falcons and we showed that tonight."
Liberty (5-2, 1-1) defeated crosstown Century 42-21, but while the score might suggest otherwise, the contest was tightly contested for most of the second half, and if not for the Jaguars' inability to finish drives in the red zone, the outcome could've been entirely different.
"Hats off to Century, they played really tough," Mahlum said. "They made some nice halftime adjustments and ran the ball well. They played good ball and have a good group of coaches over there, and I wouldn't rest on them the remainder of the season."
Three times the Jags entered the Falcons' red zone and left without points, including twice in the second half and once at the end of the third quarter, trailing by just eight.
"It gets more serious for us down there," Liberty defensive back and receiver Marquis Brown said. "To be honest it was more of a linebacker thing though. I told those guys that they were going to run it and that I had all of the receivers covered, so get in there and stop that run. And they did a great job."
Century (2-5, 0-2) finished the game with two running backs, Emilio Hernandez and Anthony Ha, rushing for more than 100 yards, but it was Liberty's Jaison Ochoa who broke the big run when it counted, scampering for 76 yards and a touchdown to put the Falcons up 15 points with 9:09 remaining in the fourth quarter. Ochoa finished with 18 carries for 172 yards and two scores in the game, which became increasingly important as Liberty played much of the game without standouts Cole Smith and Jaxon Lake due to injury.
"We're banged up," Mahlum said. "We're missing some of our top guys, but guys stepped up tonight and hopefully we'll have those guys back next week."
You wouldn't have known they were banged up early. Liberty took an 8-0 lead less than three minutes into the contest when quarterback Hiro Diamond ran one in from four yards out for the game's first score. Then, following a Hernandez 10 yard rushing score that pulled the Jags within 8-6 after a failed two point attempt, the Falcons scored twice more in the next four minutes, one on a Brown 60 yard catch-and-run, and another on a second Diamond score from two yards out to make it 23-6.
Century answered however, driving 71 yards on 10 plays, culminating with a 15 yard Hernandez run to cut the lead to 23-13 with 9:07 left in the first half. Yet Liberty again answered, this time going 29 yards in four plays, set up by a nice kickoff return by Anthony Giannetti and capped by Ochoa's first score of the night, a 7-yard scamper that gave the Falcons a 29-13 lead following a blocked extra point.
The ensuing drive is when Century's red zone woes first reared their ugly head. After going 62 yards to the Liberty seven yard line thanks in large part to a Ha 42 yard run, the Jags turned the ball over on downs with an opportunity to close within a score before half. A victory for the Falcons, but sadly a sign of things to come for a Century team that was trying desperately to get over proverbial hump.
"Those stops were big," Mahlum said. "We allowed them the yards, but we kept 'em off the board and then it was up to us to finish the game."
And they did, but not before Century pulled within a score when Hernandez again found pay dirt, this time from 7-yards out with 4:19 left in the third quarter, and after a successful 2-point conversion cut the lead to 29-21. But the game turned for good on the Jaguars' next drive, when after moving the ball to the Liberty 14 yard line thanks in large part to a Ha 50 yard run, Liberty's Logan Lamb intercepted a Zachary Boehler pass attempt and three minutes later Ochoa's long run sealed the deal for the Falcons.
Giannetti added a 20 yard score with 2:21 to play, which capped the scoring.
All wins are big, but this one — primarily due to last week's loss — felt bigger for a Liberty team who still holds their destiny in their hands when it comes to winning a second straight Pacific Conference title.
"We've been playing pretty rough the last couple of weeks, including in our win over Lincoln," Brown said. "But now we feel like we're back, and next week's game against Sherwood is going to be like a playoff game for us. And we'll be ready."
And what did Brown have to say about the Jaguars after what was ultimately a pretty hard-fought win?
"They've gotten a lot better," he said. "They're offensive line and they're play-calling has gotten a ton better, and they're a good team, but I live for these battles and we won it tonight."
Hernandez finished with 190 yards rushing and three scores for Century, while Ha added 113 yards on the ground.
Liberty will travel to Sherwood for a 7 p.m. game next Friday, Oct. 25, at Sherwood High School.
Century will play Glencoe at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, at Hare Field.
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