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Liberty thwarts upset bid, stuns Blue Springs in OT

By Bill Althaus
bill.althaus@examiner.net
Blue Springs' Noah Michel (21) kneels dejectedly as Liberty celebrates after Liberty kicker Alex Rottjabk booted a 38-yard game-winning field goal in overtime to win it for the Blue Jays in a Class 6 District 4 semifinal Friday. The Wildvats blew a late lead and fell 31-28.

When Wentric Williams III scored the game-tying touchdown with just 49 seconds left in regulation, Liberty kicker Alex Rottjabk realized he had a shot at winning the Class 6 District 4 semifinal against Blue Springs in overtime.

Rottjabk had a 48-yard game-winner to his credit earlier this season and knew that if the Blue Jays could keep Blue Springs out of the end zone in overtime he could provide the winning margin of victory. He did just that, booting a 38-yarder through the uprights to help top-seeded Liberty hold off the upset bid by a determined group of Wildcats and claim a 31-28 come-from-behind win.

Blue Springs could not get anything going on its overtime possession starting at the 25-yard line and Caden Hoehns missed a 38-yard attempt, giving Rottjabk and the Blue Jays the opportunity for the win.

The Blue Jays ran the ball three times, making sure it was in the middle of the field, and Rottjabk kicked a game-winner that would have cleared the crossbar from 50 yards.

“I just wanted the chance to kick the field goal, and my team gave me that chance,” Rottjabk said. “When Blue Springs led (28-21) late in the game I was wondering if we were going to get the chance to tie it and send it into overtime, and we made a big defensive play and scored the touchdown. It worked out great.”

Blue Springs receiver Carson Willich (5) is greeted by teammate Ike Ezeogu (8) after scoring on a 15-yard pass from Patrick Maloney (17) late in Friday's game at Liberty. Willich's touchdown put the Wildcats ahead 28-21 but Liberty rallied to tie it and claimed a 31-28 win in overtime.

For a few brief minutes, it looked like coach David White’s 5-6 Wildcats were going to pull off a big upset as Patrick Maloney hit Carson Willich for a 15-yard touchdown to give Blue Springs a 28-21 lead with 3:34 left to play.

The Wildcats defense turned it up a notch on the Blue Jays’ next offensive series and they had to punt when a third-and-eight pass fell short of first-down territory.

The Wildcats appeared to have it locked down when they took over on their own 21-yard line with just 56 seconds left in the fourth quarter following the punt.

Maloney, however, fumbled the snap and it was recovered by Caleb Cahill on the 21-yard line.

Liberty's Caleb Cahill pounces on a fumble on the snap in Friday's Class 6 District 4 semifinal against Blue Springs. Liberty scored two plays later to tie it and won it 31-28 in overtime.

A play later, Williams scored the game-tying touchdown, setting up the heartbreaking overtime.

That wiped out so many highlights for the Wildcats, who trailed 14-0 early but knotted it at 14-all on a 44-yard touchdown run by DeAndre Thomas, who hugged the sidelines the last 25 yards of the score, and a 2-yard run by Lamana Tapusoa.

Blue Springs receiver Isaac Harkness (9) outraces Liberty defender Ricky Ahumaraeze (1) for a 56-yard touchdown reception in their Class 6 District 4 semifinal Friday. The Wildcats nearly knocked off the top-seeded Blue Jays, who rallied to win 31-28 in overtime.

Cahill then caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Luke Smith to put Liberty ahead 21-14.

The Wildcats, though, countered with Maloney’s 56-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Harkness and Willich’s late score to take the 28-21 advantage.

“I wish I could talk … about the game,” Willich said, as he bent over in tears, “but I just can’t right now.”

Blue Springs defensive back Xavier Loyd reacts after the Wildcats got a fourth down stop on Liberty Friday. Blue Springs led late but fell 31-28 in overtime.

The tears flowed as White and his staff held a lengthy postgame session at midfield, following one the hardest setbacks in the veteran coach’s career.

“We gave them that 14-0 lead,” White said as Caden Dennis opened the game with a 91-yard kickoff return for a score and the Blue Jays later turned a Harkness muffed punt into a 20-yard Williams touchdown carry.

“After that, we played pretty well. We did a lot of great things tonight, but right now, none of our guys are going to be thinking about the good things we did. They don’t prepare speeches for coaches after losses like that.

“You just want to thank the guys for all the hard work they put in this season and tell them how proud you are of them.”

He paused for a moment, and added, “Boy, this is a tough way for the season to end.”

Blue Springs' Dalesean Staley (7) and Chase Bryant (24) celebrate after the Wildcats stopped Liberty on fourth down in Friday's Class 6 District 4 semifinal. The joy was short-lived for Blue Springs, though, as the host Blue Jays rallied for a 31-28 overtime victory.