Liberty North runs over explosive Lee's Summit North's upset bid in battle for first place
It’s not always the case that a game can live up to its lofty expectations, but the biggest game of the season so far on the Missouri side did not disappoint Friday night.
Liberty North, tied for first in the latest Class 6 state rankings, clawed its way past previously undefeated and No. 4-ranked Lee’s Summit North, 38-35.
“It lived up to the hype,” Liberty North head coach Greg Jones said. “Whether you were at the stadium or you watched at home, you got your money’s worth.”
The game had plenty to enjoy, with some explosive plays, big hits, a playoff atmosphere and a couple of second-half lead changes.
In the end, though, it was some old school smashmouth football that led the Eagles to a victory.
Liberty North led the entire first half, including by as many as 10 points on two different occasions, but its lead had been whittled down to 24-21 by halftime.
The Eagles had a three-and-out to start the second half and Lee’s Summit North capitalized, taking the lead on a 10-play drive. Quarterback Tre Baker capped the possession with a 19-yard touchdown run on a scramble up the middle to put the Broncos ahead 28-24.
Facing their first deficit of the game, the Eagles didn’t panic and start slinging the ball all over the field looking for big plays. Instead, they let their offensive line do the work, running the ball on all eight plays of the drive that covered 78 yards. Cayden Arzola finished the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to make it 31-28.
“We figured out what they were doing,” Arzola said of the Broncos defense. “And I think they got a little tired. Our O-line kept moving.”
Added Jones, “We put the game on the shoulders of our offensive line, and they got it done.”
After the Eagle defense forced a punt, the offense went back to its bread and butter. They were quickly in Bronco territory after three more running plays. Quarterback Sam Van Dyne converted a big third-down through the air to Aiden Anderson, and then play-action set up a 22-yard pass to Micah Jo Barnett.
But the final five plays of the drive were a battle of the trenches. Liberty North had gains of 3, 4, 2, 3 and finally 1 final yard from Arzola again as he fought his way into the end zone to make it 38-28, capping a nearly six-minute drive.
Of the Eagles’ 24 second-half plays that weren’t kneel downs, 21 of them were runs.
“I’ve been in this business long enough to know that our defense was reeling,” Jones said. “If we drop back to throw and it’s incomplete, that doesn’t take time off the clock, and then our defense is back on the field. We had to pound the rock and keep their offense on the sideline and give our defense a rest.
“We had to play complementary football. The defense has saved us plenty of times this season, so for the offense, it was time to return the favor.”
The strategy was no surprise to Broncos head coach Jamar Mozee.
“That’s usually how he does it,” Mozee said. “They were eating the clock. It was smart game management. They were trying to counter us. We can be explosive, so they were keeping us off the field.”
The Broncos dug themselves an early hole thanks to their own doing. A pair of turnovers were crucial, as the Eagles recovered a forced fumble on a sack in the first quarter, and then Melvin Laster intercepted a pass that was tipped by Kaden Durso.
Both turnovers turned into Eagle touchdowns.
“The two turnovers were huge,” Mozee said. “The possession with the interception, we had the chance to go ahead. And those turnovers set them up for touchdowns. A team like that is going to score. We have to take care of the ball. We haven’t done that all year.
“… This (loss) should make them angry. We want to see them again.”
The Broncos will look to get back to their winning ways when they host Park Hill next Friday. Liberty North heads back home to play Lee’s Summit West and will look to stay laser focused after such a big win.
“One game at a time,” Jones said. “Our slogan all year has been humble and hungry. They understand.”