Liberty breaks Blue Devil hearts in final minute

By Kris Freeman for the White House Tribune

(White House) – A game filled with critical mistakes and miscues for both teams came full circle in the final 58 seconds Friday night as the Liberty Crusaders cashed in on a 27-23 rally to win at White House in the Class 4-A quarterfinals.

In only the second meeting of the two schools, Liberty Tech evened the series at 1-1 with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Dominique Davis to Ajon White to the right corner of the endzone with 50 seconds left. After Thomas Welch nailed the PAT to give the Crusaders a four-point lead and kicked off from the 25 following a penalty, White House fumbled the first snap attempting a flea-flicker pass.

With 37 seconds on the clock, Davis kneeled three times to run it out. White House (7-6) led for three quarters, and surrendered a 14-point advantage built midway through the third.

Liberty (9-4) advances to play at Covington (13-0) in the Class 4-A semifinals Friday night while the Blue Devils end the season. White House is now 9-10 all-time in quarterfinal games.

Liberty had 459 yards of total offense, almost evenly split as Davis completed 10-of-20 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Penalties and turnovers hurt, with Liberty losing 101 yards on 11 penalties and throwing an interception.  A potential second interception was later ruled incomplete.

White House ended with 309 yards of total offense and dominated the ground game with 59 carries for 285 yards. Grant Wicker’s last game was consistent with his big games of the past two seasons as the workhorse gained 193 yards on 34 carries with a touchdown, tying Ricky Ladd with 78 career playoff points, the best all-time at White House.

Senior Ethan Hoffman finished with 10 rushes for 47 yards while Taylor Wood added 28 yards on eight carries. Quarterback Ryan Pool threw just three times, completing two passes for 24 yards. White House had 20 first downs and only five penalties – but those penalties and three critical turnovers proved to be the difference.

Davis connected to Tyler Taylor for 71 yards on the fifth play of the game with Liberty capturing a 6-0 lead with 9:44 left in the first quarter. Bailey Burns and Josh Mullins blocked the extra point.

White House responded with a 10-play march to the endzone, but as Ryan Pool dove in for the tying touchdown, officials blew the play dead for a procedure call. That proved costly, with Pool fumbling and losing the football at the six to end the drive.

The defense forced a three-and-out and took over after a short punt giving White House excellent field position at the 34. Two plays later, Pool was intercepted by Avondre Cross at the 10 and he returned it 21 yards. With two drives into the red zone, White House had zero points.

Wesley James got pressure on Davis to force a third-down incompletion and the punt by Anthony Collis was again short. This time, White House was in business and took the lead with 10:54 left in the second quarter. A nine-play drive marched 51 yards and Wicker scored from six out with Dunlap adding the PAT.

The Blue Devil defense forced its third straight short series and punt, and Josh Mullins returned the kick 25 yards to the Liberty 27. A crucial holding call on third down backed it up, and Dunlap knocked home a 44-yard field goal for the 10-6 edge.

Davis marched his team in White House territory but Caleb Sabin picked him off on the eighth play and returned the ball 17 yards near midfield. White House wasted no time, methodically taking the rest of the second quarter to go 11 plays and 52 yards when Pool sneaked in on fourth down at the goal line for a 17-6 lead at the intermission.

Dunlap’s 40-yard field goal extended the lead to 14 on the first series of the second half, but Courtney Bush darted 80 yards on the next play to make it 20-13 with Welch adding the PAT. That’s when the most controversial portion of the game ensued, proving to be the eventual difference.

White House was driving and facing 3rd-and-1 at the Liberty 33 when a dead-ball personal foul backed the football to midfield. A short, pooch kick put the football at the three and Liberty avoided disaster.

Trailing by seven, Davis launched a long pass on 2nd-and-8 from the 20 into the middle of the field. Senior Jordan Huskey slid to make the interception, and was ruled down by two officials. After a discussion, the umpire ruled the pass hit the ground and was incomplete, giving the football back to the Crusaders.

Five plays later, the game was tied. A long pass to Taylor set up a three-yard run from Davis to make it 20-20 with 11:52 left.

It took White House 13 plays and almost eight minutes off the clock to get into scoring position, but facing 4th-and-4 at the six, the Blue Devils initiated a team shift to draw the Crusaders offside. Instead, the procedure penalty backed it up five yards and White House followed the mistake with a 28-yard field goal for a 23-20 lead.

Liberty put together its best drive of the night with 4:05 left to take the final lead, going 75 yards in nine plays. White House, needing a touchdown and down by four, fumbled the exchange as Huskey pitched to Wicker, and Wicker was going back to Pool to attempt a pass and the ball hit the ground. It was recovered by Cordarius Owens.

Colton Contella finished his final game with a career-high 10 tackles to lead the defense. Hoffman, Wood and Huskey all had nine stops.

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