The Lions (0-2-1) took an early lead, with junior running back Nic Wightman pounding the ball in from four yards out for the game's first score. Fellow junior running back Alonzo Winn capped an 85-yard Lions drive late in the second quarter with a 36-yard touchdown run.
The Warriors (2-0-1), minus star senior running back Willie Griffin, who suffered a hip injury in the first quarter and did not return, answered back. With just 20.1 seconds left on the clock, senior quarterback Laron Johnson found wide receiver Demeritt Brown in the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown reception, narrowing the Lions lead to 13-7 at the half.
The Lions suffered a major blow on the first play of the second half, when after Wightman found a gap between the tackles and busted upfield for a 31-yard gain, he hobbled to the trainers' table. The 5-foot-8, 200-pound starter had fractured his collarbone on the play, ending his night and possibly his season.
After a sensational interception by Winn, who leapt over the intended receiver and
hauled in the pass one-handed while crashing to the turf, the Lions got right back into the scoring act.
Facing fourth-and-goal from the 10-yard line, Liberty brought in its kicking team, minus Wightman, the team's regular place-kicker, to attempt what would be a 27-yard field goal. However, much to the surprise of everyone in attendance, including both the McClymonds defense and Lions head coach Dave Reinders, the fake was on. Keith McDaniels, Liberty's starting quarterback and holder on place-kicks, pitched the ball to replacement kicker Adrian Ortega, who scrambled right and threw a perfect pass to Nathan Humphrey at the front of the end zone for the score.
"I had no idea the play was coming," said Reinders after the game. "My special teams coordinator called it. I was just as surprised and excited as everybody else."
McClymonds, however, gave credence to the old football adage "speed kills," as it bounced back to score twice, in spectacular fashion, in the final six minutes of the third quarter. First, on a 90-yard kickoff return by senior Deante Washington following Humphrey's touchdown catch, narrowing the Lions lead to 20-14. Then, with just 25.3 seconds left in the quarter, Warriors running back Andre Island broke away from the pack, jetting 80 yards down the left sideline to tie the game 20-20.
Island, who tallied 193 yards on 10 rushing attempts, put McClymonds up 26-20 on his very next touch, sprinting untouched up the right sideline on a 47-yard touchdown run.
The Lions final drive of the game resulted in a 2-yard touchdown pass from McDaniels to Winn with just 27.3 seconds left to play, tying the game at 26-26 with the point-after try on its way. However, McDaniels, kicking in the place of the injured Wightman, saw his attempt blocked by McClymonds, denying Liberty its first win of the season.
Although Liberty is still searching for its first victory of the year, playing a team as talented and well respected as McClymonds to a tie is certainly a step in the right direction.
"We are going to raise our emotional level all day every day," exclaimed Reinders to his team after the game. "Liberty football is back, and it's back to stay!"
Liberty takes its show on the road, as it seeks that elusive first win at Pittsburg tonight. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.