With both teams averaging more than 40 points a game in Bay Valley Athletic League play, it seemed likely that the game between Antioch and Liberty on Friday, Oct. 29 would be a high- scoring contest dominated by the offenses. It turned out to be the exact opposite. The Panthers prevailed in a defensive struggle, defeating the Lions 6-0.
While Liberty’s offense struggled throughout the game, the Lions did have one glorious chance at the end with a first-and-goal from the 10 yard line. Lions senior Deovion Hill ran for three yards on first down, which was followed by two incomplete passes to set up a fourth down. Junior quarterback Nate Bell completed a pass to Hill but the Antioch defense swarmed to bring him down short of the goal line, creating a turnover on downs.
The game was not quite over, though. The Panthers picked up a pair of first downs on the subsequent possession but still had to punt. Needing to go 80 yards with no timeouts in less than a minute, Liberty faced long odds. The Lions picked up one first down but Antioch senior Jorge Hernandez Jr. ended Liberty’s faint comeback hopes with an interception to seal the game.
“Our defense played great, tremendous actually,” Antioch senior Jorge Hernandez Jr. said. “We would have probably lost that game if it wasn’t for our defense.”
Hernandez was unquestionably the game’s star. In addition to nabbing the game-sealing interception, he rushed for 277 yards. That included a long run that, after a penalty, netted 32 yards following the Liberty turnover on downs. It also included a 72-yard run on Antioch’s first possession. Hernandez was tackled just short of the end zone on that play but scored the game’s only points on a three-yard touchdown run two plays later.
The Lions weren’t exactly operating at 100% offensively. Bell was injured during Liberty’s win over Freedom and didn’t start, though he did come in at halftime. That left the Lions not only without their starting quarterback for the first half but, with sophomore Ryan Mckendry going under center, Liberty was also playing with its top receiver in another role.
While Bell was not moving efficiently, the Lions offense did move the ball better in the second half with him at quarterback. Liberty twice got into the red zone, with one possession ending in a missed field goal and the other the aforementioned turnover on downs. The latter drive was sparked by a 44-yard completion from Bell to Mckendry.
“We lost some other receivers this week, too; it was kind of a perfect storm,” Liberty coach Matt Hoefs said. “But at the same time, hats off to Antioch. They played really well.”
While the game didn’t end the way the Lions were hoping, they did enjoy their first true homecoming game in two years.
Hoefs was uplifted by the support shown by the Liberty students and staff as well as local residents who supported the team.
“They do it right here,” he said. “They definitely love the community. It’s the second homecoming game I’ve been a part of, once as an assistant. The crowd was packed, it was standing room only in some places. All of the members of the community were out here.”
The Panthers and Lions both have one regular season game left. Both will be played on Friday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. In both cases, the stakes are high.
Antioch, which is 6-3 overall and 4-0 in BVAL games, will be on the road at Pittsburg. The Panthers and Pirates have both likely already done enough to earn a North Coast Section playoff spot. But with both teams entering with 4-0 records in league play, the always intense Big Little Game will effectively double as a BVAL Championship game.
“I feel like we have a chance,” Hernandez said. “This game was a pretty hard game. I feel that next week will be another hard game -- but we have a chance.”
Liberty will also be on the road, taking on Heritage in the Brentwood Bowl. The Patriots are 5-4 overall and 2-2 in BVAL play. A win against the Lions would go a long way in solidifying a playoff spot for Heritage while a loss would put the Patriots on the bubble.
Liberty, meanwhile, is 4-5 overall and 2-2 in the BVAL. A loss in the finale would mean the end of the season. Liberty would likely still need help, but with a win over Heritage, the Lions would be in the mix.
“We fought until the end,” Bell said of his team. “The defense did a great job. We had a lot of injuries on offense that really altered our game. We’re definitely disappointed. We don’t want to lose our Homecoming, obviously. But we’re going to come back next week better.”