Liberty knocks off James Wood in overtime

BEALETON — Liberty quarterback Austin Mawyer called over James Wood’s Casey Floyd after the handshake line and gave him a postgame hug and a compliment.

Prior to that, the Eagles’ Tyler Hurst and Jayden Ulloa offered condolences to an exhausted Jordyn Sweetser as the Colonel fell to the ground in disappointment of the result.

Four quarters didn’t separate the two teams on Friday night, and it took an overtime to finally do it in a game that both squads needed.

Mawyer tossed a 10-yard TD pass to tight end Brandon Mock on Liberty’s second offensive play in overtime to give the Eagles a 35-29 triumph over the Colonels. Mawyer passed for four scores and ran for another to offset two touchdown runs, a touchdown pass and a pair of two-point conversions from James Wood sophomore Dominik Ramirez.

Both teams rallied from a score down in a penalty-filled contest (30 total) that could have decided a postseason berth.

“We work all week for games like this and we finally got one,” said Mawyer, who was 22 of 35 for 418 yards. “We were in a dogfight and we came out with a win.”

“There’s a lot of plays in this game that when we go watch film we’ll wish we had back,” said James Wood coach Todd Wilson, whose squad played most of the contest without star linebacker Zach Smith, who was injured in the second quarter. “I’m not taking anything away from Liberty — they made big plays when they had to. We had way too many penalties tonight (18 for 139 yards) … and a few mental mistakes on the offensive line early in the game.”

Liberty (5-5, 1-3 Class 4 Northwestern District) had a couple of chances to KO the Colonels in regulation. Leading 29-22 after Mawyer’s two-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, the Eagles drove into field goal position, but missed a 28-yarder with 6:56 remaining.

The Colonels responded with their longest drive of the game to square the score. Owen Neal’s 41-yard pass over the middle to Sam Jackson kicked off the march, but it took a 24-yard jump ball on fourth-and-15 to Justin Gwinner to extend it. On the next play, Ramirez broke a tackle and tip-toed down the left sidelines for a 20-yard TD run and Christofer Viera’s extra point made it 29-29 with 4:24 to go.

Mawyer drove the Eagles 39 yards to the Colonels’ 21, but on first down his pass to the end zone deflected off of Caleb Owens and Floyd snared it for an interception.

Liberty won the toss and elected to go on defense in the overtime, in which both teams start at the 10.

James Wood came out in the heavy set that Ramirez had done a lot of damage in over the course of the game. But on the first play, Ka’Von Tibbs knifed in and dropped Ramirez for a four-yard loss. After a three-yard gain, Neal returned. On third down, Gwinner nearly came up with a pass in the right corner, but the ball hit the ground as he and the defensive back battled. Neal’s pass over the middle on fourth down was incomplete.

Mawyer threw an incompletion on Liberty’s first play, but on second down he found Mock cutting to the left. The bruising tight end did the rest. Mock ran over one tackler at the 3 and bulled past two more to get into the end zone.

The catch was just Mock’s second in the game.

“He had been open, but every time I had been getting pressure,” Mawyer said. “It was frustrating him a little bit. Then we finally got him the ball and he wasn’t going to be denied.”

Amid the yellow flags, James Wood got off to a great start. Sweetser forced a fumble from Mawyer on the Eagles’ first possession and William Andrews recovered at the Liberty 13.

The Colonels surprised the Eagles on the second play of their heavy set as Ramirez lofted a pretty 11-yard TD pass to Floyd just 2:38 into the game. A missed conversion pass made it 6-0.

Sweetser’s interception after Mawyer was belted while he was throwing by Miguel Padilla-Najarro ended Liberty’s second drive, but the junior quarterback got the Eagles going from there.

Mawyer was 3-for-3, including a six-yard TD pass to Dominick Coles for a score. And after a James Wood penalty, Mawyer threw to Deaundre Booth for a two-point conversion to make it 8-6.

Mawyer’s next TD pass was a little longer, a 70-yard strike to Andrew Ryman on a pump-and-go that made it 15-6 with 5:50 to go before halftime.

James Wood (4-5, 0-3) countered with a 53-yard drive, with Ramirez doing nearly all of the damage. He carried eight times for 51 yards, reaching over to break the plane on fourth-and-goal from the 4. His conversion toss to Floyd made it 15-14 at the half.

Taking the second half kickoff, the Colonels struck on two big plays to Jackson. Ramirez tossed a 43-yard strike to Jackson on the left sidelines on the first play of the second half to the Liberty 30. On fourth-and-16 from the 36, it was Neal’s turn to find Jackson over the middle for a touchdown strike. Ramirez ran in the two-point conversion to give the Colonels a 22-15 lead.

But later in the quarter, Mawyer and Ryman burned James Wood again, this time on a 78-yard bomb to square the score at 22-22. Ryman finished with six catches for 221 yards.

Wilson liked the way his squad hung in there without Smith, who was injured while serving as a blocking back on offense.

“Our guys didn’t waver,” Wilson said. “We knew it was going to be a four-quarter game. … They played hard with a lot of emotions. What we commended them for is that when their captain and leader Zach Smith went out, they could have really imploded and been like, ‘What are we going to do now?’ We put some young guys in there. Ivan Andrews went in there and played some linebacker, another sophomore.

“When he got hurt, it was a very big point of the game,” said Mawyer, who said he talks with Smith often. “They brought in players and they still executed very well.”

Ramirez had an outstanding effort with 25 carries for 123 yards and was a surprising 2 for 2 passing for 54 yards.

“That wasn’t the game plan,” Wilson said of Ramirez’s passing prowess. “That’s just part of our package. He runs the ball hard and he’s hard to tackle. The guys love blocking up front when he’s back there.”

Neal was 8 of 17 for 142 yards, while Jackson had four catches for 125.

Liberty, which trailed the Colonels in last week’s VHSL power rankings, played 10 consecutive weeks and will await to see if Friday’s win can put them in the Top 8 to earn a Region 4D berth.

The Colonels will have one more chance to earn points as they face Millbrook in the regular-season finale on Nov. 3.

“We’ll bounce back,” Wilson said. “It’s not that this game wasn’t huge — it definitely was. We were up and excited for this game. But [next week] it’s Millbrook. It’s a crosstown rival. Our kids know those kids. It seems like the last couple of years it’s been a battle back-and-forth. I look for it to be the same this year.”

— Contact Walt Moody at
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