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The Falcons claim first place in the Pacific Conference standings with their 40-33 win

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Sherwood senior receiver Charlie Bullfinch (left) gets ready to throw a pass off a reverse during Fridays game at Liberty.The battle for Pacific Conference supremacy basically came down to one play.

And, unfortunately for the Sherwood High School football team, that one play was a big one — made by Liberty.

With first place in the conference standings on the line, the Falcons, getting a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown by senior Aidan Maloney with just 1 minute and 21 seconds left to play in the game, came a way with a 40-33 win over the Bowmen in a Pacific Conference showdown played Friday at Liberty High School.

"I'm feeling great for the whole community," Liberty coach Eric Mahlum said. "To all these kids and people who support us, to see us win a game like this against such an incredible program just feels really good."

With the victory, Liberty improved to 3-0 in conference play (6-2 overall), putting the Falcons alone atop the Pacific standings with one game left to play. Sherwood moved to 2-1 in conference games (3-5 overall), putting the Bowmen in a tie with Newberg for second place in the standings.

The Falcons jumped on Sherwood early, building a 14-0 lead on two Bradley Norman touchdown runs just five minutes into the game. Sherwood, however, closed the gap to 14-6 on a 5-yard TD run by sophomore Clay Peden.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Sherwood High School sophomore Clay Peden (37) carries the ball for the Bowmen during Fridays game at Liberty.Then after a Bryan Bafaro 10-yard touchdown run gave Liberty a 20-6 advantage, the Bowmen pulled within 20-13 on an 8-yard scoring run by senior Ian Stormont. The Falcons held the 7-point lead going into halftime.

Sherwood milked nearly eight minutes off the clock to open the second half, using primarily a combination of runs by Stormont and Peden runs. That set up a 4-yard TD run by junior Caleb Hagen, which cut the Liberty lead to 20-19 following a failed extra-point attempt.

Liberty quickly regained control of the game on its next possession after a series of Maloney and quarterback Bradley Norman runs, before a second Bafaro touchdown followed by one of the game's few successful extra points put the Falcons ahead 27-19 with 1:22 left in the third quarter.

Things appeared to be headed towards a comfortable Liberty win on Sherwood's next possession, as the Falcons defense put a somewhat pass-challenged Bowmen offense in a third-and-long. But faced with an uphill down and distance, the Bowmen pulled a rabbit from beneath their proverbial hat when they ran a successful reverse pass from senior receiver Charlie Bullfinch to junior Jamison Guerra for 60 yards to the Liberty 14-yard line. Two plays later, Stormont — who finished with 165 yards on 22 carries — scored from five yards out and following a successful two-point conversion, the game was tied 27-27.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Sherwood senior running back Kaden Rhinehart tries to get past a Liberty defender during Fridays game.After a Liberty three-and-out, Sherwood took its first lead of the night when Stormont capped an eight-play, 73-yard drive with a 20-yard TD run. The extra point was blocked, and the Bowmen led 33-27 with just 5:56 left in regulation.

But Liberty would come back, getting a 41-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Brad Norman. The ensuing extra point was missed, but the Falcons defense stepped up on Sherwood's next possession, forcing a punt and setting up what would ultimately be Maloney's game-winning return.

"Such a great team win," said Maloney. "The guys came together all week, believed the whole game, and came through with the win for the school and community. I just can't put into words how good this feels."

Peden added 31 rushing yards on six carries in the contest. Guerra had three receptions for 71 yards. Senior Jacob Reuter had two catches for 59 yards. Senior quarterback Cade Chidester completed three of eight pass attempts for 70 yards.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Sherwood senior quarterback Seth Bernhardt (12) rolls out behind the blocking of sophomore Bryan Cuthbertson during Fridays game.For the Bowmen defense, senior Jackson Barton, junior Nick Severson and junior Lucas Voss each had a quarterback sack.

For Liberty, Norman completed 12 of 13 pass attempts for 157 yards. He also rushed for 147 yards on 21 carries.

Both teams will finish their regular-season schedules on Friday. Sherwood will host Century and Liberty will play at McMinnville in games starting at 7 p.m.

Dan Brood of the Times contributed to this story.

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