Walters leads Eagles past Judges in 49-47 shootout
Garrett Utterback (6) and Handley's Marcus Tactikos watch as Liberty senior receiver Ian Vowels hauls in a 12-yard touchdown late in the 2nd quarter. Vowels' grab put the Eagles ahead, 23-20.
Junior tailback Jaquan breaks away from Judges linebacker Jack Pingley (L) and Nick Dempsey (13) in the second quarter.
T.J. Hogan busts loose from Handley's Brian Thomas (14) for a chunk of his 80 yards.
Aaron Walters breaks off a run against Will Martin (34) and Jordan Dowrey. Walters carried 13 times for 135 yards and four touchdowns.
The Judges stand helpless after Walters' 1-yard touchdown plunge in the fourth quarter.
The two teams embrace after the high-scoring affair.
There are things about him you can’t write on paper.
— Handley Coach Tony Rayburn on LHS QB Aaron Walters
Handley quarterback Will Dearing drove his team down the field against Liberty. It looked like a replay of the season opener, a last-second 45-42 Judges win.
As the clock ticked, Dearing pushed Handley (7-4) across midfield. After a timeout, the gunslinger dropped back to pass. His 4th-and-9 throw fell short on a sideline route to receiver Jason Morgan.
With 33.8 seconds remaining, the Eagles finally handed the Judges a losing verdict.
The 49-47 win featured a bit of everything. More than 1,000 yards were gained. Liberty missed three extra points. Two players – Eagles end Noah Estep and Handley’s Jack Pingley – left the game on a stretcher, only to return to the sidelines before time expired.
“It was a nail-biter,” quarterback Aaron Walters said. “There’s not much to say. I’m kinda wordless.”
In the first meeting, Liberty squandered a 21-point fourth-quarter lead. The Eagles (7-4) panicked when things went wrong.
On Saturday, Coach Sean Finnerty’s team stayed calm and erased a 10-point deficit with less than six minutes left.
“It’s stressful,” Finnerty said. “I think I’m going to have to change my diet or something because I didn’t think I’d make it.”
Liberty’s sixth consecutive win earned the school a place in next Friday’s Region 4A-North quarterfinals against top-seeded Sherando (10-1).
Saturday’s game provided more than one reversal of fortune. Senior Garrett Watts quarterbacked the Eagles in August. In the middle of the season, Walters took the reins.
Walters played phenomenally in the second half of the big win. His 1-yard score with nine minutes left to cut Handley’s lead to 40-37.
“Their quarterback is a tough kid,” Judges Coach Tony Rayburn said. “….There are things about him you can’t write on paper.”
After Judges tailback D.J. Frisby scored on a 80-yard run less than a minute later, Walters again went to work.
The sophomore connected with Garrett Utterback for a 13-yard touchdown with 5:39 left. A missed extra point left the score at 47-43 in Handley’s favor.
Two plays later, Dearing threw long – and into the wind. Watts, who moved to cornerback after Walters became quarterback, soared for the breeze-shortened pass.
“He just went deep….He threw it short,” Watts said.
Rayburn defended the risky play call.
“We knew we had to stay aggressive on offense,” the coach said. “They were almost scoring at will.”
Watts’ interception set up a 1st-and-10 at the 40-yard line. Martin Parker rushed for no gain on the next play.
Then, Walters struck the final blow. He took the snap, broke free and ran down the left sideline towards the end zone.
At the 5-yard line, Walters dove for the pylon. His extended arm hit it with ball in hand. It was the shining example of “scoring at will.”
“As a running back in the old days, I was always taught to keep my feet chopping,” the quarterback said. “I just kept my feet moving.
“It was pretty cool. Once I scored, I was pretty happy, but I knew we still had a lot of football to go….The last play doesn’t matter.”
The run brought him to his team-high 135 rush yards. He also threw for 146 yards on 11 completions.
Originally given the job due to his prowess in the team’s heavy rush attack, Walters proved he could lead the team no matter the formation. He took most of his second-half snaps from shotgun.
When the final horn sounded, his two first-half turnovers were forgotten. An interception in the third quarter no longer mattered.
Walters accounted for six of Liberty’s seven touchdowns. His team needed every one against the relentless Judges.
“They’re clutch or something,” Walters said. “I don’t know what it is. They get in a corner and know how throw those haymakers to get out of it.”
The sophomore’s stellar play might have been lost if not for Watts’ interception. It embodied the Eagles’ mindset since a 1-4 start.
Individuals put their egos aside and came together as a team. The result – an undefeated district record, a county title and a playoff win – speaks for itself.
“It was tough for Garrett when he threw for 900 yards in seven games,” Finnerty said of the position change. “That’s why he’s there. We feel he’s our best corner and if he’s our quarterback, he couldn’t play every snap on defense.”
Watts feels comfortable with his spot.
“I played corner last year; it’s my position,” he said.
Sherando fans and players sat in the visitor’s bleachers for Saturday’s game. Things will be different in Arrowhead Stadium on Friday.
It will mark the second consecutive week the Eagles look for revenge against a Northwestern District opponent.
The Warriors throttled Liberty in early October, 45-23 – the Eagles’ last loss.
“If we eliminate the mistakes, we can beat Sherando,” Finnerty said. “Can we beat Sherando if we make the mistakes we made today? Absolutely not.”
Rayburn took a deep breath when the mighty Warriors were mentioned.
“Liberty can play them as good as anyone I’ve seen,” he said. “But, Sherando is tough.”
The Warriors defeated 16-seed Amherst in the first round, 49-15.
Liberty 49, John Handley, 47
John Handley (7-4)
LHS – Tommy Smith 23-yard field goal (9:12).
LHS – Aaron Walters 18-yard run (4:49); Smith kick.
JH – Will Dearing 1-yard run (00:14.2); kick failed.
LHS – T.J. Hogan 6-yard run (11:42); kick failed.
JH – Jason Morgan 80-yard pass from Dearing (9:10); Nick Marshall kick.
JH – Dontae Mauck 1-yard run (7:05); Marshall kick.
LHS – Ian Vowels 12-yard pass from Walters (2:25); Smith kick.
JH – Marshall 30-yard field goal (:00).
JH – Jarrett Cestaro 25-yard pass from Dearing (10:52); Marshall kick.
LHS – Walters 20-yard run (7:34); Smith kick.
JH – D.J. Frisby 5-yard run (4:48); Marshall kick.
JH – Marshall 18-yard field goal (10:41).
LHS – Walters 1-yard run (9:00); Smith kick.
JH – Frisby 80-yard run (8:09); Marshall kick.
LHS – Garrett Utterback 13-yard pass from Walters (5:39); kick failed.
LHS – Walters 40-yard run (3:55); kick failed.
LHS – 521
JH – 491
Rushes – Yards
LHS – 42 – 375
JH – 37 – 215
Completions – Yards
LHS – 11 – 146
JH – 13 – 226
LHS – 22
JH – 17
Penalties – Yards
LHS – 10 – 86
JH – 3 – 45
LHS – 3
JH – 2
LHS – Aaron Walters, 11/14, 146 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs.
JH – Will Dearing, 13/27, 226, 2 TDs, 2 INTs.
LHS –Walters 13/135, 4 TDs; T.J. Hogan, 10/80, TD; Martin Parker, 7/78; Jaquan Sinclair, 8/63; Garrett Utterback, 3/16; Brent Smith, 1/3.
JH – D.J. Frisby, 24/192, 2 TDs; Dearing 9/19, TD; Dontae Mauck, 3/4, TD; Marquaye Jackson, 1/0.
LHS – Garrett Utterback, 6/70, TD; Noah Estep, 1/27; Rodman Munson, 2/25; Ian Vowels, 2/24, TD.
JH – Jason Morgan, 3/108, TD; Jarrett Cestaro, 4/57, TD; D.J. Frisby, 3/31; Dontae Mauck, 2/28; Brian Thomas, 1/2.
>>>> Click here for additional photos.
KCChiefs#1Fan · November 17, 2013 at 8:45 am
Walters floats like a butterfly ... stings like a bee. Wish we had him on the field in Denver tonight!
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