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Bolts claim Titan Trophy with last-second win over rival Little Hawks

TD by Liberty’s Tye Hughes seals 28-24 win over City High
Liberty High’s Henry Lucy holds up the brand new “Titan Trophy” as his teammates surround him Friday, Oct. 9, at City High. The Bolts won 28-24 on a touchdown with 5.6 seconds remaining in the annual City-Liberty “Clash of the Titans” rivalry game.

IOWA CITY– A game that started out oh-so-wrong ended oh-so-right in nail-biter fashion Friday, Oct. 9, for the Liberty High Lightning as they closed out the regular season with a trip to rival Iowa City-City High for “The Clash of the Titans.”
The Bolts won the contest 28-24 on a quarterback keeper by sophomore Tye Hughes with 5.6 seconds left in the ballgame. The win earned Liberty bragging rights over their rival, and possession for at least one year, of a brand new “Titan Trophy” specially crafted for the two schools.
Earning the traveling trophy was a challenge for the Bolts from the start. After taking the opening kick-off, a fumble on their second play turned the ball over to the Little Hawks. City threatened to score, but Lighting defense held and took the ball back on downs on their own 1-yard line. Another fumble, however, proved costly as City High recovered the ball and scored for a 7-0 lead with 7:19 left in the first quarter.
City capitalized on another Liberty miscue, intercepting a pass from Hughes. A Little Hawk touchdown closed out the short drive, but was negated by a penalty, which led to City settling for a field goal and a 10-0 lead with 3:52 left in the period.
Darius Willis-Newell, a junior, put the Bolts on the scoreboard early in the second quarter as he ran the ball in for a touchdown. Emerson Bennett, a junior, nailed the extra-point kick to make it a 10-7 ballgame. The Little Hawks answered in-kind, capping off a long drive for a 17-7 advantage with 3:06 left in the half. City High recovered yet another Liberty fumble and scored, but again, a penalty erased the score, and returned the ball to the Bolts with 1:20 remaining.
Good fortune smiled upon Liberty in the third quarter after they kicked off to the Little Hawks. Luke Meyer, a junior, intercepted a City High pass and ran it downfield 25 yards to score. Again, Bennett had a good kick to make it 17-14 with 7:22 left in the period. Liberty’s luck continued to hold as Willis-Newell scored mere seconds into the fourth quarter to give the Bolts their first lead of the night at 20-17. Bennett’s kick was good, and the Lightning were up 21-17.
The Little Hawks again retaliated with a touchdown and retook the lead 24-21 with 5:16 left in the game.
Liberty’s final drive seemed destined for disaster as two penalties and a quarterback sack struck in rapid succession. Adding to the misery index, a pass was nearly intercepted, with additional penalties.
But a pass interference call went Liberty’s way, signaling a turn-around in their luck. With two minutes remaining, the Bolts were facing fourth down and six yards to go at their own 49-yard line. A pass to senior Brody Fishman gave Liberty a badly needed first down on City’s 39-yard line. Despite penalties and fierce City High defense, the Bolts moved to the Hawks’ 29-yard line with 58.5 seconds left, and were on third down and one yard to go. With 22 seconds left, Hughes again connected with Fishman for a first and goal from City’s one-yard line.
Disaster nearly struck as another fumble occurred, but this time the Bolts kept the ball and took a time-out. When play resumed, a pass into the end zone was swiftly batted away by a Little Hawk. Then, with 5.6 seconds left, Hughes kept the ball and scampered in for the winning touchdown. Bennett put the exclamation point on with another good PAT kick, and victory was Liberty’s.
“I’ve never been more proud to be a Bolt,” said head coach Jeff Gordon, who has been the leader of the Lightning from the start. “And, I’ve never been more proud of the Bolts. Just their way to overcome adversity… and sometimes we caused it ourselves… that it would’ve been real easy for this group of guys to quit.”
Gordon noted the Little Hawks could easily have 50-pointed his team.
“But that’s what we talk about, the character, and the resolve that they need to have for the rest of their lives,” he said. “I’m sky-high because I’m so proud, whether we won or lost, how it started, it could’ve been 50-0, and our guys just kept believing and fighting, and some Bolt made a play.”
Game stats were not available as of deadline for this edition.
The Bolts, at 2-2, have a first-round bye in the 2020 Class 4A playoffs. Liberty is in “Pod 5,” and will face Dubuque Hempstead, in Dubuque, for the second round on Friday, Oct. 23, at which time new pairings will be released ahead of the third round on Friday, Oct. 30 and the quarterfinals, set for Friday, Nov. 6.
Class 4A semifinals and the championship game will be held in the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls with semifinals scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 12, through Saturday, Nov. 14, and the championships (all classes) taking place Thursday, Nov. 19, and Friday, Nov. 20.