Liberty-Eylau Survives Van’s Comeback Attempt For The Ages In Bi-District Playoff Round
LONGVIEW -- It was a game right out of a movie.
There were tears and smiles on Van's side of the field. Depending on the player, Thursday's Class 4A bi-district playoff game was a complete failure or a great triumph against the odds.
The Vandals lost. Liberty-Eylau won, 48-41, despite giving up 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and then allowing Van all the way to its 36-yard line on a potentially game-winning drive .
Senior linebacker Henry George sacked Van quarterback Garrett Moseley with no time left on the clock to pull out what seemed like an easy win for the Leopards 12 minutes beforehand.
"You cannot help but be proud of these kids," losing coach Jared Moffat said. "This group of kids, especially. They battled all year long and lost some tough games. They had plenty of opportunities turn this one in. They just kept battling. That's kind of just what kids here in Van do. They kept playing hard. They fought their way back into it.
"I'm disappointed we lost the game, but I'm so proud of their effort."
With one timeout left, after scoring its 20 straight points, Moffat's squad failed to recover its onside kick attempt at the 1:56 mark. Liberty-Eylau safety Andre Wiley Jr. fell on the ball, his second recovery of the game.
Running back Lamont Byrd's 2-yard gain forced Van (6-5) to burn its final timeout and quarterback Ke'Mon Freeman earned a game-winning first down two snaps later. But instead of taking a knee with less than a minute left, Byrd broke loose for a 39-yard gain and fumbled right at the goal line.
Van pounced on the ball for a touchback. The team had 45 seconds to drive 80 yards for a touchdown and game-tying point after kick or a game-winning, two-point conversion.
Moseley found Bradley Fitzgerald for a 25-yard gain on first down. After a spike, Kendrick Jones recorded his lone reception for 19 yards to set the Vandals up at the Leopards' 36-yard line.
It got even more dangerous for the Leopards (10-1) after two incomplete passes. They were flagged for pass interference with seven seconds to play. Van bailed them out with a holding penalty on the same play to offset the interference.
George blindsided Moseley seven seconds later for the victory and right to play Sanger in the Class 4A Division I area round.
"I didn't want to go home," George said. "I want to go to state. We couldn't just got out in the first round like that."
Liberty-Eylau -- ranked 10th in the Associated Press' final all-encompassing Class 4A poll -- wants you to believe in them as a true Class 4A Division I state championship contender.
The Vandals, the fourth-place team from District 8-4A Division I, trailed 48-21 into the final period and were probably close to buying in. They were outscored 41-14 through the middle quarters.
Freeman had thrown for touchdown passes of 52 yards, 45 yards and 33 yards. He also ran in scores of 38 yards and three yards.
Byrd broke 71 yards for a touchdown and later scored from 10 yards.
Liberty-Eylau's defense ceded a little more than 100 yards and two touchdowns to Van running back and Nebraska commitment Aphonso Thomas and also forced five punts through the first three quarters.
The Leopards' special teams recovered a surprise onside kick late in the first half.
Moseley's 7-yard touchdown throw to Jaxon Tobias in the back corner of the end zone began to turn the tide with 7:55 to play. The touchdown followed a Liberty-Eylau muffed punt return. But only after Van's Brett Doring got away a kick that had skidded from Van's 31-yard line to the 10-yard line on a poor snap.
From there, Liberty-Eylau went three-and-out and punted for the very first time.
Thomas' 30-yard run set the Vandals up at the Leopards' 23-yard line. Isaiah Allred came down with Moseley's next pass to make the score 48-35 at the 5:22 mark.
Liberty-Eylau went three-and-out a second consecutive series.
Moseley got Van out of a 3rd-and-17 jam with a 29-yard run and hit Allred again the next play to make it a 48-41 game with 1:56 left on the clock. The extra point kick went underneath the crossbar.
"It looked like we had the game in hand," Leopards head coach Steve Wells said. "We just same mistakes at the end that could have cost us. Thank God it didn't. We found a way to win. That's what's great about these kids. They always seem to find a way to get it done. But we do have to clean up a few things we made mistakes on tonight, for sure, to be a championship ball club at the end."
Wells' team also had a pass deflected late in the first quarter near a Van linebacker. Had the player been able to react quicker, it could have been a pick-six and a 14-7 lead.
In the second quarter, receiver Garyco Witcher fumbled away a 31-yard reception to Van's 14-yard line. Byrd fell on it at the last second to sustain a touchdown drive capped by Freeman with 30 seconds left in the half, a 27-14 lead due to a point after attempt blocked by Vandals safety Cooper Bledsoe.
Freeman was ultimately too much to overcome. The dual-threat quarterback picked up two third down conversions on the ground to extend two scoring drives through the game.
Freeman ran for a game-best 171 yards on 16 carries. He also completed 10 of 20 passes for 209 yards.
"We've watched a lot of film on Van," Freeman said. "They're a good team. They can cover the ball real well. In practice, we just focussed on what we could do. I feel like we did it."
Byrd followed close behind in the rushing department with 165 yards. Thurman Morbley caught for two scores and 87 yards while Witcher finished with one less yard and a touchdown.
Defensive end Lagaryonn Carson, a junior Texas commitment, recorded three tackles for loss and one sack.
Thomas scratched out 168 rushing yards in his final high school performance.
Moseley overcame a 2-for-12 start for an 11 of 23 night with 185 yards through the air. He also ran for 53 net yards, including an 8-yard score to give Van a 7-0 lead midway through the opening quarter.
Liberty-Eylau's date with Sanger is in flux. The current plan is to face Sanger at 7 p.m. Thursday at Royse City ISD Stadium.
Pittsburg and Argyle also intend to play in Royse City if those two teams meet in the next round. If Pittsburg loses to Crandall today in its own bi-district playoff game, however, the Leopards' will face Sanger on Friday of next week.
"Our objective is to get better," Wiley said. "We've got to be more into the game. We need to make sure we play our game for not one quarter, not two quarters -- The complete game."
Liberty-Eylau 48, Van 41
Class 4A Division I Bi-District Playoff Game
Pine Tree's Pirate Stadium, Longview
Van 7 7 7 20 -- 41
Liberty-Eylau 7 20 21 0 -- 48
VAN--Garrett Moseley 8 run (Jozef Ruiz kick), 6:32
LE--Garyco Witcher 52 pass from Ke'Mon Freeman (Daulton Turner kick), 5:10
LE--Thurman Morbley 33 pass from Freeman (Turner kick), 11:54
LE--Lamont Byrd 71 run (Turner kick), 10:23
VAN--Aphonso Thomas 1 run (Ruiz kick), 6:37
LE--Freeman 3 run (kick blocked), :30
LE--Freeman 38 run (Morbley pass from Freeman), 7:35
LE--Byrd 10 run (kick failed), 4:54
VAN--Thomas 3 run (Ruiz kick), :55
LE--Morbley 45 pass from Freeman (Turner kick), :38
VAN--Jax Tobias 7 pass from Moseley (Ruiz kick), 7:55
VAN--Isaiah Allred 23 pass from Moseley (Ruiz kick), 5:29
VAN--Allred 25 pass from Moseley (kick failed), 1:56
First Downs 20 21
Total Yards 406 609
Rushes-Yards 46-220 38-400
Passing Yards 185 209
Comp.-Att.-Int. 11-23-0 10-20--0
Punts-Avg. 6-32.7 2-29.0
Fumbles-Lost 3-0 3-2
Penalties-Yards 2-10 6-40
RUSHING--Van, Aphonso Thomas 33-168, Garrett Moseley 12-53, Rielly Krumvieda 1-(-1). Liberty-Eylau, Ke'Mon Freeman 16-171, Lamont Byrd 13-165, Kameron Levingston 8-50, Arymis Johnson 1-14.
PASSING--Van, Moseley 11-23-0--185. Liberty-Eylau, Freeman 10-20-0--209
RECEIVING--Van, Isaiah Allred 3-69, Bradley Fitzgerald 2-41, Krumvieda 1-30, Jax Tobias 2-26, Kendrick Jones 1-19. Liberty-Eylau, Thurman Morbley 4-87, Garyco Witcher 4-86, Byrd 2-32, Laderrick Gray 1-4.