THAYER 22, MOUNTAIN VIEW 29
Take away two plays and 45 seconds from the first four games this year, and the Thayer Bobcats would be 4-0 instead of 2-2.
Just two weeks after the Houston Tigers rallied past the Cats with a long deflected touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining in the game, the Mountain View/Birch Tree Liberty Eagles slipped past Thayer with a big fourth-quarter play, as the Eagles beat the Bobcats 29-22 Sept. 23 at Louis Bozman Stadium.
With Thayer clinging to a 23-21 lead, Liberty (2-2) struck with a big pass play across the middle of the field that had to remind Bobcat fans of the loss to Houston.
On second-and-12 from the Eagle 49-yard line, quarterback Justin French hit tight end Levi Moore in stride, and Moore did the rest, rambling 51 yards for the go-ahead touchdown at the 3:51 mark of the fourth. French ran the 2-point conversion in, making the score 29-22, Liberty.
With one last chance, the Cats headed downfield, but backup freshman quarterback Jacob Eckman was picked off to seal the victory for the Eagles.
"We're close to being an awfully good team," said Bobcat Head Coach Billy Webber. "The truth of the matter is, if we come up big on a couple of plays, we're undefeated; instead we're .500."
Turnovers were the order of the evening, as five miscues by each side helped to derail what could have been a high-scoring shootout. Liberty had been averaging over 200 yards of offense through the air, while Thayer had found a good pass/run balance over the course of the season's first three weeks.
Although the Bobcats certainly would have loved to pin a loss on their rivals from Mountain View, Thayer's biggest defeat of the evening was not on the scoreboard, but rather the loss of senior starting quarterback Brett Ward.
On the Bobcats' next-to-last offensive series of the third quarter, Ward was injured on a bootleg keeper and had to leave a 14-all game with a sprained MCL.
"He's doing good," said Webber. "He might be back this week (against Ava Sept. 30) or the next."
Thayer's defense looked sharp early, as John Tollenaar picked off French on Liberty's first possession of the game to start things in fine fashion for the Bobcats.
After the sides swapped punts, Thayer posted the first points of the night on a 24-yard, four-play scoring drive.
Ward crossed the goal line from a yard out at the 7:38 mark of the first to get the Bobcats going. Ward then ran in the 2-point conversion to give Thayer an 8-0 lead.
Liberty's next series ended with a turnover, as French was picked off for the second time, this one by Bobcat linebacker Luke Martin.
This good fortune was short lived, as the Cats put the ball on the ground one snap later, and the Eagles took over.
The fourth turnover of the game's first 12 minutes belonged to Liberty, as Michael Lowther recovered an Eagle fumble, snuffing out a Liberty drive to leave the Bobcats on top 8-0 after one.
Lowther was at it again just inside the start of the second quarter.
After a Thayer drive was stopped at the Liberty 45, Thayer was forced to punt. Ward got off a good punt that was fielded by the Eagles' Ryan Day. Lowther, with a full head of steam, smacked Day, popping the ball loose. Lowther then fell on the football at Liberty's 23, giving the Cats a short field.
Three plays later, on fourth-and-2 from the 16, Ward rolled out and hit Tollenaar with a TD pass at the 5:27 mark of the second. The 2-point conversion was stopped, but Thayer had extended its lead to 14-0.
The last five minutes of the half was a bit shaky for Thayer, as Liberty used an interception of Ward to cut into the lead.
French tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Pete McGuyer with 1:45 left in the half. The PAT was good, and the Eagles were on the board with seven points.
The half ended with another Bobcat turnover, but the score stood at 14-7, Thayer, at intermission.
"They're just a big, physical team," said Webber. Our guys played hard, but when we've got two guys on our front who are as big as their five are, we're just outmanned."
Thayer's defensive came out renewed in the second half, as Liberty drove to the Cat 36-yard line before Thayer's defensive stiffened.
O.J. Major stopped Eagle running back Chase Yarber in his tracks on third-and-1, and when Liberty tried to convert on fourth down, the Bobcat defense would have none of that, and Thayer took over on downs.
But, in keeping with the theme of the game to that point, the Cats gave the ball right back to Liberty via an interception of Ward.
The Eagles cashed in three plays later as Travis Zitter ran the ball in from 12 yards out at the 5:23 point. The PAT locked the game at 14-all.
The next snap from scrimmage for Thayer came with a high price, as Ward was hurt and forced to exit the game, giving way to Eckman.
The Eagles took their first lead of the night at the 8:29 mark of the final frame, as Zitter scored his second TD of the night on a 9-yard run. The PAT pushed Liberty in front 21-14.
Backup quarterback or not, the Bobcats wasted little time in answering the Eagle score.
On a 57-yard drive that featured the feet of Lowther, Thayer used eight plays to get to the Liberty 1-yard line. Lowther finished off the drive with a TD carry around the right side. Lowther paced Thayer with 85 yards rushing on the night. Not done, Lowther converted the 2-point conversion, diving at the right pylon and stretching the ball across the goal line, giving Thayer a 23-21 lead.
However, this lead lasted just five plays, as French hooked up with Moore for the 51-yard game-winning touchdown.