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Falcons lose heartbreaker


Sandy erases a two-touchdown lead after halftime and storms back to beat Liberty 27-21 in overtime

Midway through the fourth quarter, last Friday’s football game against Sandy seemed Liberty’s to lose.

Battling with the Pioneers late in a turnover-filled contest, the Falcons led 21-7 on their home field, and they were controlling the ball and marching toward the end zone once again.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Liberty wideout Byron Greenlee stiff-arms Sandy defensive back Carter Knox during last Friday's Northwest Oregon Conference football game. Sandy won 27-21 in overtime.

But Sandy woke up at the last, scoring two touchdowns in the final six minutes of regulation and another in overtime to cement a 27-21 stunner and spoil Liberty’s senior night.

With the victory, Sandy moved to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the Northwest Oregon Conference, good for sole possession of second place. Liberty fell to 4-3 and 3-2, and sits tied with Parkrose and Wilsonville for third heading into tonight’s round of games.

“They just made more plays than we did at the end,” Liberty coach Eric Mahlum said. “They made the plays they needed to win, and we didn’t make the plays we needed to win.”

Indeed, the play that seemed to start turning the tide came on the Pioneers’ first score in the fourth quarter. C.J. McKinnis made the big play on defense when he stepped in front of Liberty backup quarterback Mike McBride’s pass deep in Sandy’s defensive territory. McKinnis then rumbled 84 yards up the left sideline to take it to the house. Though the Falcons got a hand on Wyatt Edwards’ point-after attempt, Sandy had cut the lead to 21-13 with 6:00 remaining and had the momentum.

Liberty’s next drive appeared to get off to a good start thanks to a long kickoff return by Devin Kaneshiro — who scored the home team’s first two touchdowns — but a block in the back penalty negated some of that yardage, starting the Falcons off at the Sandy 45-yard line. Unable to capitalize on the decent field position, Liberty eventually turned the ball over on downs after McBride could not make progress on a fourth-and-2 at the 24.

So Sandy’s final drive of regulation started with 2:34 remaining, and the Pioneers made the most of it. With three interceptions on the night, Sandy quarterback Spencer Barnett had been a bit shaky, but he came alive on the final drive in regulation, hitting Cody Welty for three pass completions to keep the possession going and then, on his third consecutive keeper, plunging into the end zone on a third-and-goal from three yards out with just 18.8 seconds remaining in regulation. The junior quarterback also motored in the two-point conversion to tie the game at 21-21 and force overtime.

In extra time, Liberty had the first possession, but its offense stalled out. Two Kaneshiro runs and an incomplete pass netted the Falcons just two yards. With the team needing to reach the 15-yard line to keep the drive going on fourth-and-8, McBride threw his fourh pick of the night, to Edwards.

That would prove to be Liberty’s last offensive possession. That meant any kind of score by the Pioneers on their offensive possession would seal the game. Sandy went to its ground game, calling six consecutive running plays. After being held to just 21 yards on 15 carries, Andrew Funk came up with the biggest play of the night, dashing into the end zone from seven yards out to complete the comeback.

“It’s little mistakes and whatnot,” senior lineman Jon Horn said. “We gotta keep hold of the ball. Most of all, we gotta keep our chin up. We had 18 seconds there that decided the fate of the game. We were unfocused. We needed to keep our composure.

“And then going into overtime, it was like, ‘OK, well, we’ve got our second chance here.’ I don’t want to say we didn’t want it bad enough. We’ve just never been in that situation as a team and as a family. It was just, I guess, something new, but at the same time, we’ll learn from it.”

That Liberty was in position to win the game for much of the night was impressive. The Falcons were missing several players, including senior speedster Matthew Langbehn, who was relegated to watching the contest from the sideline while on crutches and wearing a protective boot. And to add injury to injury, starting quarterback Blake Walker left the game late in the first half and did not return to the field.

The Sandy comeback spoiled a fine outing by the sophomore Kaneshiro, who scored rushing touchdowns midway through the first quarter (13 yards) and late in the second (30 yards) to put Liberty up 14-7 at the intermission. In all, he ran 16 times for a game-high 114 yards.

“I’m just really proud of this team, how far we’ve come from the start,” said Kaneshiro, who has only recently taken up a starting spot. “We did good, just didn’t pull it out in the end.”

Senior Hunter Dehlin added a rushing score of his own midway through the third quarter (15 yards) to set the stage for the Pioneers’ rally. He had 14 carries for 73 yards. Walker was 4-of-10 passing for 44 yards, while McBride was 2-of-7 for 26 yards. Byron Greenlee, who showed his good hands on defense with a couple of interceptions, led the receivers with two catches for 27 yards. On defense, Kyle Rose recorded 10 total tackles.

Liberty won the night in most offensive categories, including total offense (333 yards to 196), time of possession (30:13 to 17:47) and first downs (21 to 11).

But the Pioneers won the statistic that matters most: the one on the scoreboard, which leaves Liberty traveling to Wilsonville tonight for a matchup of third-place teams.