Ashburn, Va. (October 1, 2014) – 8.6 seconds left in the game. Ten yards left to reach the end zone. Down by four. A time for heroes in a game full of them.
As Spartan senior quarterback Brady Reitzel surveyed the Liberty defense one last time, he tried to figure out the Eagles’ coverage scheme. His offensive line, minus injured captain Will Yancey, had been under a barrage of blitzes throughout their fourth quarter rally. The line held for one last play, as senior Tyriek King found an open patch. Reitzel then fired a strike and King held on in the end zone as the Spartans were able to escape Liberty with an improbable, exciting 38-35 win to run their record to 4-1 at the season’s midway point.
Coming into the game, Spartan Coach Matt Griffis had no illusions that this year’s contest would be as one sided as last year’s 52-24 triumph. This Liberty team had outscored their first three opponents by a combined score of 144-7. More daunting, perhaps, was the fact that their massive offensive line averaged 290 pounds across the board. Griffis was confident that his team would be able to move the ball and put points on the board, but was worried about how his defensive front seven would match up against such an imposing unit.
Things started out well for the Spartans as they scored on their first three possessions, including the first score of the game on a Reitzel keeper from the 1-yard line following a fumble by Liberty’s Martin Parker. Liberty would answer back quickly, as their powerful ground game found traction, and following a touchdown run by Liberty senior TJ Hogan, the score was tied at 7.
Liberty’s strategy of pooching their kick-offs gave Broad Run excellent field position to start their next drive, taking over on their own 46 following a return by junior Jaleel Robinson. Showing confidence in his own offensive line, Griffis called upon senior Jashawn Banks to convert on 4th and inches from the Eagles’ 23. Following the big conversion, Griffis kept the ball in Banks’ hands for the next two plays, and the senior rewarded his coach with a powerful blast into the end zone from 13 yards out. The Spartan defense then forced a big stop and took over on their own 8 yard line. Senior Willie Smallwood then put together a drive to remember, as he sandwiched two long runs around a beautifully executed screen pass, gaining 60 total yards in the process. The Eagle defense was able to keep the Spartans out of the end zone, however, and Broad Run had to settle for a 32 yard field goal by senior kicker Sam Sergi.
The Spartans were hoping that their 17-7 lead would hold as halftime neared. Liberty had 2:26 in which to cover 41 yards. With elusive junior quarterback Aaron Walters doing most of the damage, the Eagles found themselves at the Spartan 4 with just seconds remaining in the half. Walters followed his monstrous teammates up the middle, cutting the Spartan lead to 3 as the 2nd quarter ended.
The Eagles came out roaring to start the second half. Walters and Parker were each able to follow their blockers for easy scores and the Spartans found themselves down 28-17 with 47 seconds left in the 3rd quarter. Reitzel, moving quickly now, hooked up with senior Chuck Davis for 38 yards and King for 16 more. Following two hard runs by Banks, the Spartans found themselves with 1st and goal from the Liberty 4 yard line. The Eagles stiffened, however, and on 4th and goal from the 9, Griffis elected to go for the touchdown. Liberty blitzed, and forced Reitzel into his first interception of the night.
Walters and his Eagle teammates looked to be in control as they attempted a 47 yard field goal with 7:15 left in the game, but the kick fell short and the Spartans clung to life. Reitzel, came out firing and, after hitting Davis four times on the drive, handed off to Smallwood (12 rushes for 93 yards) on the Eagles 30 yard line. Smallwood found a hole, broke a tackle, and fell into the end zone, cutting the lead to 5. The quick strike Spartan offense had covered the 80 yards in 2:08 seconds. The two point conversion was no good, however, as the Eagles clung to their lead, 28-23.
Griffis, now clearly worried about the Eagles ground and pound strategy, attempted an on-side kick with 5:07 left. Liberty recovered, and things looked bleak for the Spartans, especially after Walters was able to push past Banks on 3rd and inches for a first down. Banks, a three year starter and two way player, immediately came back with arguably the biggest play of his storied Spartan career. Walters took the snap on 1st and 10, and tried to go off tackle, only to have Banks come flying in and strip the ball right from his arms. The stunned Eagles watched in disbelief as Banks then rambled 60 yards for the go-ahead score. The two point conversion was good as the visiting bench erupted.
Liberty wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Down by 4 with just over three minutes left, Walters regained his composure and led the Eagles on a 10 play, 70 yard drive. Walters completed 3 out of 5 passes on the drive, including a clutch 14 yard completion on 4th down from the Broad Run 31. TJ Hogan found a huge hole up the middle and scored with just 1:08 left in the game. The extra point gave Liberty a three point lead.
Liberty inexplicably pooched the ensuing kickoff, and junior Clyde Bryson took advantage, returning the kick from the Broad Run 30 into Eagles’ territory at the 48. The Eagles, applying pressure from their blitzing linebackers, forced two quick incompletions. The disciplined Spartan line then remained still as the anxious Eagles jumped offsides on consecutive plays, giving the Spartans a much needed first down. The penalties helped to slow the formidable Eagle pass rush as Brady had plenty of time to locate King on a hook route on the next play for a gain of 14. With just 14 seconds left, Griffis called the exact same play, with the exact same result, only this time for a touchdown. Sergi’s extra point, Broad Run’s twenty-first of the quarter, completed the scoring. The Spartans held on as Walters tried to get his team in position for a potentially tying field goal try, but it was not to be, as the Spartans swarmed to field to celebrate.
The huge victory could not come at a better time for Broad Run as the Spartans head into their bye week before facing an undefeated Tuscarora squad and cross-town rival and perennial powerhouse Briar Woods in consecutive weeks. For now, however, it is time to savor the hard fought win in enemy territory against a big, strong, and talented opponent. This night was a night for heroes.
By Frank Gorey