Park Hill got a break when it needed it most, but when the defense needed to make a stop it didn’t happen.
The Trojans struggled in most facets of the game against Liberty on Friday, Oct. 26, but in the fourth quarter they showed some promise scoring twice in a six-minute span.
But needing to force a turnover or punt on the Blue Jays, Park Hill couldn’t and lost 20-14 on HyVee Field at the Liberty Hospital Activity Complex.
The season ended with a 5-5 mark for the Trojans, losers of their final three games of the season — which was preceded by a five-game winning streak.
“At the end of the day, you have to throw fireballs and fastballs at the beginning of the game and we spent too much time feeling things out,” Park Hill coach Josh Hood said. “We were really bad the first time we played them. Unfortunately, we haven’t given our best effort against Liberty yet. We have played them twice and had a chance to win the football game twice. They have too many weapons to spot them points. Unfortunately, that is what we did tonight and we have to live with it.”
Liberty got the ball with 4 minutes, 18 seconds left and never gave the ball up. The Blue Jays (7-3) started to attack the Trojans by mixing in runs from Jack Lowery and Nathan Gray.
Park Hill also provided a little help when an offsides gave the Blue Jays a first down.
Liberty, in its first year in Class 6, went after the Trojans where there was a blip of weakness — on the defensive line. The Park Hill front line opened the year with three potential Division I players in Ethan Smith, James Gore and Johnny Wilson.
Smith, who committed to Air Force, was lost early in the season to a shoulder injury and never returned. Gore and Wilson became stalwarts on the line, but Gore was lost early in this game against Liberty to a foot injury. Add in the absence of Mikey Miles — out with an injury since the Staley game — the Trojans were lacking in playmakers to stop the Blue Jays’ rushing game.
The big play was a 3rd-and-3 from midfield. On the play prior, Park Hill burned its final timeout.
Gray got the carry and was hit, but his second effort got the needed yards, though a measurement was needed, but they got the first down by ½ of a football.
From there, the Blue Jays only ran three plays, milking the clock and secure its second win against Park Hill for the second time this season. Liberty ran for 219 yards on 52 carries. Lowery had 132 on 25 totes, while Gray had 77 yards on 22 carries.
The Park Hill rushing attack, by comparison, had 37 yards on 19 carries.
“The last several years, at the end of the year, we end up too banged up and have too many players standing on the sidelines,” Hood said of the injury bug that effected both sides of the ball. “We got to find a way to create better depth, No. 1, but No. 2, our kids need to put their body in position to play 14 or 15 games in a season. We haven’t found a way to do that in the parameters of what we do. We need to do a better job of it. We have been good for 10 or 12 or even 13 games. But we need to find a way to finish with our best effort every year.”
Park Hill trailed 17-0 at one point in this contest — the same score at halftime as the first meeting in 24-21 loss in Week 2 — and rallied to make it interesting.
The 17-0 deficit in this game was as late as the start of the fourth quarter.
Right before that, the Trojans had its best offensive play of the contest when quarterback Ryan Graves hit Javion Gathrite for a 45-yard gain. That play doubled the offensive output for the Trojans.
Gathrite moved down to the Liberty 18 and then on the next play, Graves ran to the 9-yard line.
But, a fumble was recovered by Liberty at the 9-yard line and thwarted the Trojans first scoring opportunity.
The Blue Jays didn’t capitalize on that turnover and punted.
Taking over at their own 43, the Trojans needed only one play to score.
Graves threw a deep ball to Payton Stanfield, who ran under it and scored a 57-yard touchdown with 10:01 left to play. Graves threw for 132 yards.
Park Hill pulled within 17-7, but Liberty recovered the onside kick and got good field position.
The Blue Jays made two first downs and got to the 27-yard line and settled for a 44-yard field goal by Grant Ross with less than 5 minutes to play.
The Trojans then got its longest play of the year from sophomore Jaylin Noel.
With his foot at the 1-yard line, he fielded the kickoff and returned it up the Park Hill sideline for a touchdown with 4:24 left to play.
Park Hill never got the ball back after that. Liberty ended up running 83 plays, compared to 35 for the Trojans.
The Trojans came up with several big plays on defense in the first half to keep the game close.
Liberty’s first possession of the game ended on a fake punt attempt and the Trojans took over at its own 40, but went three-and-out — a theme for first half.
The Blue Jays turned the ball over on their next possession when DaShaun Powell intercepted a pass at the Trojans’ 41-yard line, but the offense had another three-and-out.
The Park Hill defense gave up four first downs on the next drive, but on 4th-and-5 from the 17-yard line, an incomplete pass gave the Trojans the ball again.
The first quarter ended tied at 0-0.
A 44-yard pass from Alex Roush to Lowery moved the ball inside the Park Hill territory on the first drive of the second quarter. The Blue Jays moved to the 8-yard line, but settled for a 29-yard field goal by Ross, making it 3-0.
Park Hill punted again — Kolby Heinerikson had seven — and Liberty took over at its own 46 and after runs of 14 and 21 yards by Lowery, the Blue Jays were in red zone. On 4th-and-10 from the 17, Ross missed a 35-yard field goal wide right.
The first half ended with a punt by each team.
Park Hill had 15 yards of total offense in the first quarter, nine on the ground and six passing. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays had 217. Liberty had 12 first downs, compared to zero by the Trojans.
Park Hill got its first first down on the fourth play of the third quarter, when Graves hit Evan Samborski for an 8-yard gain. Facing a third down, Graves ran for seven yards to move to midfield.
A lateral on the next play — a bubble screen — went backwards and Park Hill didn’t recover. Instead, Gray did and ran it back 40 yards for a touchdown.
After another punt by Park Hill, the Blue Jays added another touchdown to go up 17-0.
The Blue Jays had five first downs on a 67-yard drive that ended on a 1-yard run by Roush with 1 minute left in the third quarter.
Carter Goslee and Cole Goiner had 11 tackles each to pace the Park Hill defense, while Haden Wallace had nine. The trio, all seniors, are part of a class of 20 that will graduate.
“Not a coach on this staff wouldn’t put Haden Wallace on their all-time favorite team and top couple players,” Hood said. “He goes back to (Dick) Butkus and (Brian) Urlacher. He is that type of player. He is a one-in-a-lifetime player. His legacy will be tough to follow. That guy came out and played on a bum ankle and a broken hand. The effort he gives and the intensity, his competitive fire, will be missed.
“We have a fun team coming back. We expect big things from them and this program. I don’t think anyone will be excited how it ended. We have a lot of things to fix. Unfortunately, we couldn’t give our best efforts for the seniors.”