Down 10-7 with seconds left on the clock, the Liberty Ranch Hawks continued to work for a comeback and they made it happen, not only recovering a Laguna Creek fumble with 17 seconds left, but scoring with 11.1 seconds left to seal their homecoming night with their first-ever homecoming win on campus.
The Cardinals had had the advantage in the Sept. 20 defensive battle against the host Hawks with a 3-0 lead at halftime and a 10-0 lead after the third quarter.
The Hawks eventually scored a touchdown with 2:09 left and, with less than a minute left, the Cardinals had the ball and prepared to punt.
After a miscommunication between the sidelines and the punt team, however, the ball landed past the punter and, after Nani Brown tackled the Cardinals’ punter, the Hawks recovered the resulting fumble with 17.6 seconds remaining.
Liberty Ranch quarterback Isiah Ricci then threw a touchdown pass to Cameron Hopkins-Senegal on the next play with 11.1 seconds left and after the PAT kick, the Hawks emerged with the 14-10 lead.
The Cardinals worked on a last-second effort to score but was unable to score, falling to 3-2 in the preseason.
“We had practiced that play all day, and we ran it earlier in the game and it worked, but couldn’t complete it and coach just believed in us; he called it again and we executed,” Hopkins-Senegal said afterward.
The Cardinals, who recovered a Hawk fumble late in the first quarter, scored first when Oscar Rivas kicked a field goal with 11:01 left in the second quarter for the 3-0 lead.
In the third quarter, Tyrel Brown scored on a 35-yard touchdown with 9:51 left and the Cardinals took their 10-0 lead into the fourth quarter after forcing the Hawks to punt in the second part of the third quarter.
The Hawks had been in Cardinal territory but the Cardinal defense forced the Hawks to punt with 4:17 left.
Although the Cardinals knocked away a pass and also sacked the Hawks at the Cardinal 24-yard line, Tony Rangel ended up scoring on a reception to lessen the Cardinal lead to 10-7.
Hawk head coach Anthony Linebaugh said that, despite having zero timeouts, they did their best after coming up with the ball at the end and it paid off.
“We had to take an opportunity to get the ball in the end zone with no time outs and, with 17 seconds left, we knew that we had to try to give ourselves a chance and, if it fell incomplete, then we were going to go for the tie and take our chances in overtime, but things worked out.
Nill credited the Hawks with being able to zone in on their mistake in the final 20 seconds.
“Our kids are coming off a tough season from last year, and part of that is teaching them the game of football. We had a miscommunication between the punt team and myself, and he had to rush the snap and when he rushes the snap, the ball goes over the punter’s head and then we don’t capitalize. Our punter does a heck of a job trying to kick the ball and now it’s just a little too late and our backs are against the wall with 20 seconds left, I think it was, and their guy made a great play.”
With a 3-1 record entering their game against the Liberty Ranch Hawks, the Cardinals looked very much prepared to be the new owners of a 4-1 preseason.
With seconds left in the fourth quarter, the scope of their plan changed, however, and much like their game two weeks prior, Cardinal head coach Ryan Nill noted that they were one play shy of a win.
“I told the team that winning the game starts on Saturday when we have film and it continues with a great preparatory game on Monday because we’ve been very inconsistent. This week our practice was better throughout the week, and I said, ‘Hey, do you see the connection?’”, Linebaugh said of what he told the team after last week’s loss to Bear River. “I’m excited for them. It’s only our second homecoming on campus but they’ll remember they’re the first team that won a homecoming game on campus so that’s a special memory. Now being here 10 years, the number of firsts is dwindling. We had a lot of alumni come to watch the game so that was pretty exciting, too.”
This week is a bye week for Laguna Creek, that has the potential to bounce back and showcase their talent when they play their first league game on Oct. 4.
The Hawks also have a bye week this week and will open up the Sierra Valley Conference season Oct. 4 against Bradshaw Christian.