The two mottoes for Liberty football’s senior class this season were “Finish” and “Leave no doubt.” As the Lions stormed onto the Sun Devil Stadium celebrating a 34-28 overtime victory over Red Mountain to capture the 6A conference championship Friday night, it appeared they had accomplished both.
As it had been all season, the win did not come without some adversity, though. Of 14 games this season, the win was the seventh game that had been decided by just one score.
Red Mountain tied the game at 28 on a touchdown and two-point conversion with just seconds left to send the game to overtime, after Liberty led virtually all game.
Liberty had already played in an overtime thriller just weeks before. The Lions fell to rival Mountain Ridge on homecoming in double overtime on Oct. 4. They vowed they would not similar disappointment happen again.
“I told them one score, one stop, game,” coach Mark Smith said.
Smith called a quarterback sneak on the first play from scrimmage in the extra period. Senior Jonah Guevara busted through a hole in the middle and found the end zone with little trouble.
“I just know he had a lot of faith in me to put the ball in my hands down there. He dialed up the play and we ran it to perfection,” he said.
The Lions missed the ensuing extra point, meaning a Red Mountain touchdown and successful PAT would clinch the game. The Liberty defense had other plans.
“We know we can stop anyone in the state if we play our game, and that was just our mindset,” said junior defensive back Shane Pitts.
His fellow back, junior Zay Johnson, picked a ball off in the end zone on the ensuing defensive possession to seal the game and the Lions celebrated in a way befitting champions.
The win improved Liberty’s record to 10-4 on the season and secured the first title for Smith and the Lions in team history.
Liberty’s senior class of over 40 players is the largest the program has ever boasted. And, as the large group of players in black jerseys loaded the bus, there were still tears of joy flowing from many in recognition of their accomplishments.
They’d finished. They’d left no doubt.
“That’s something that we talked about from the very first day, the very first day of summer weight training,” Guevara said.
“When you’re little you just dream of being able to hold up that gold ball at the end of the season. And what a better way to do it than your senior year?”