Liberty coach Rich Muraco stood in disgust as he began developing a plan for overtime Friday night.
The Patriots had just allowed a touchdown to Canyon Springs with just over a minute to play, and a simple point-after kick would tie the game and likely force overtime.
To Muraco’s surprise, however, the Pioneers elected to attempt a 2-point conversion. The pass play failed, allowing Liberty to escape with a 16-15 road victory in the Sunrise Region quarterfinals.
The victory lifted the Patriots (8-3) into next Friday’s 7 p.m. semifinal at Del Sol.
Ty Byrd rushed 33 times for 178 yards and two touchdowns to lead Liberty, but Muraco said Canyon Springs’ decision to go for 2 was the pivotal play.
“That’s not a call I would have made,” Muraco said. “I was really shocked that they went for that.”
Though Byrd’s 4-yard touchdown run gave the Patriots an 8-0 lead, capping a game-opening 70-yard drive, the Patriots squandered several opportunities by losing four fumbles.
“I can’t believe we turned the ball over four times and still won,” said Muraco, whose team scored only once in the first half despite racking up 234 yards.
Deavin Rimmey scored on a 14-yard run on Canyon Springs’ first possession, but a failed 2-point attempt helped Liberty maintain an 8-6 lead.
The defenses took over from there, allowing no points until Devin Fleischer kicked a 24-yard field goal late in the third quarter to give Canyon Springs its only lead, 9-8.
But Byrd said he knew his team would battle back.
“We knew we had to pick up the intensity and fight,” he said. “I had confidence in my team.”
That confidence paid off when Byrd broke a 9-yard touchdown run up the middle early in the fourth. A 2-point conversion run by Jordan Kapeli gave Liberty a 16-9 lead.
But a bad punt late in the game gave Canyon Springs (7-3) the ball at Liberty’s 40-yard line with 1:10 to play, and the Pioneers immediately capitalized with a 40-yard TD pass from Tyler Ward to Jonathon James.
That’s when Canyon Springs coach Hunkie Cooper decided to go for 2.
“We knew we hadn’t been moving the ball well,” Cooper said. “So we took a chance and tried to win it right there. You’ve got to put yourself in a position to win.”
Ward’s pass attempt was batted away in the end zone.
Cooper said his final call played a lesser role in the outcome than his team’s inability to exploit Liberty’s turnovers.
“We should have capitalized, but we didn’t,” he said. “That’s where we lost the game.”
Kapeli rushed 10 times for 68 yards to aid the Patriots. Ward completed 5 of 9 passes for 113 yards for the Pioneers.