By Rob Potter
LAKE HUNTINGTON Many times in sports, a “big game” doesn’t live up to its billing as one team rolls to a convincing victory.
On Thursday night at Sullivan West High School in Lake Huntington, however, the Section IX Class C Division I football game between the Liberty Indians and host SW Bulldogs lived up to its “big game” definition as the outcome wasn’t decided until the final play.
SW prevailed, 21-20, in overtime when the Indians’ two-point try to win the game was unsuccessful. The win propelled the Bulldogs into the Class C playoffs, while the Indians were eliminated from playoff contention.
With the score even at 14-14 at the end of four quarters of play, the overtime began with the Bulldogs going on offense at the Liberty 20-yard line. The Bulldogs only needed one play to grab the lead as senior running back Tom Mootz took a handoff from quarterback E. J. Franskevicz and ran up the middle. He eluded a couple of would-be tacklers, ran to the left and made his way into the end zone.
Kitt Borowski then made the extra-point kick to give SW (4-2, 2-1 Class C) a 21-14 advantage.
But Liberty (4-2, 1-2 Class C) answered on its possession. Quarterback Marshon Williams threw a 19-yard pass to Efrain Baez to give the Indians a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. On second-and-goal, Kenny Jaycox ran for a 3-yard touchdown to bring the Indians within a point at 21-20.
The Indians then lined up for the extra-point kick to send the game into a second overtime. But on a designed play, the holder, Quinn Jackson, took the snap and rolled out to his right. He threw a pass to Williams, who was standing in the back of the end zone. But the ball just grazed Williams’ hand before going out of the end zone, which sealed SW’s one-point win.
“I made the call,” Liberty Coach John Wilhelm said of the courageous decision to go for the two-point conversion. “We went for the win and it didn’t work out.”
Wilhelm was quick to praise his team.
“I am proud of all of our players,” he said. “This is the best football game I have ever been a part of as a player or a coach.”
While Wilhelm noted that the Indians lost two of their three Class C Division I games by one point, there are still games left to play.
“We have three more games this season,” he said. “Our goal is to win those three games and finish the season with a 7-2 record.”
As one might expect, Mootz was very excited to score the game-winning TD.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” he said moments after the game. “We were focused on this game. This is the only game we wanted to win this season. We wanted to beat Liberty because they beat us the past two seasons.”
Mootz said the play on which he scored the winning TD is called “36 Kick.”
“I went to the inside and there were six Liberty guys there and I looked to the left and only saw three [Liberty] guys,” he explained. “I decided to go left and deal with three guys instead of six guys.”
While Mootz scored the game-winning TD, he noted that the victory was the result of the Bulldogs’ teamwork.
“Everybody worked hard and helped us win this game,” he said. “It’s not just one person. We are a family and everyone plays with heart.”
Mootz scored all three of SW’s touchdowns in the game. With 5:20 left in the first quarter, he ran for a 4-yard TD. Borowski then kicked the extra point to tie the score at 7-7.
With 4:30 remaining in the second quarter, Mootz ran for an 8-yard TD and Borowski made the PAT kick to give SW a 14-7 lead.
Mootz led the Bulldogs with 110 yards rushing on 20 carries. Also contributing to the Bulldogs’ ground attack were Franskevicz (14 carries for 65 yards), Borowski (11 carries, 42 yards), Jared Meola (four carries, 19 yards) and Sawyer Erlwein (three carries, 15 yards).
Mootz, Erlwein and Scott Erdman each made 10 tackles to pace the SW defense.
“Overall, it was a good high school football game,” SW Coach Ron Bauer said. “Both teams played hard and both had good plays at times.”
The veteran coach noted that his team was preparing to stop Liberty from kicking the extra point to tie the score.
“We were going for the block to secure the win,” Bauer commented. “Luckily, the [two-point] pass was incomplete.”
While happy with the win, Bauer is looking for improvement from the Bulldogs.
“We’ve got to get better for the playoffs,” he said.
Liberty took a 7-0 lead with 9:56 to go in the first quarter as Williams ran for a 37-yard touchdown and Ryan Henry kicked the extra point.
After Mootz’s second touchdown gave the Bulldogs a 14-7 advantage, the Indians knotted the score at 14-14 with 3:25 left until halftime. Williams threw a 31-yard TD pass to Henry, who then converted the extra-point kick.