By Cam Huffman
With starting quarterback Hunter Wright on the sideline with an injury and Shady Spring driving for a potential game-winning score, Liberty needed somebody — anybody — to make a big play and turn the game around.
The Talley brothers got the message.
On a crucial fourth-and-6 at the Liberty 16-yard line, sophomore Michael Talley chased down hobbled Shady Spring quarterback Timmy Culicerto — who played much of the second half with a leg injury — deep in the backfield. In the process, the ball was ripped loose and the other Talley, senior Ricky Talley, saw the ball at his feet.
The big Raider lineman scooped up the ball and sprinted toward the goal line, gaining separation from Shady’s would-be tacklers with every step. Sixty-five yards later, Talley was in the end zone, celebrating the game-clinching score in a 28-20 Liberty victory.
“I saw my brother sack the quarterback, and then I saw the ball rolling around on the ground,” said Tally of the play of the game. “I just picked it up and went with it. I knew I was gone.”
Liberty (4-5) had chances to put the game away much earlier.
After the Tigers (1-8) scored on a 24-yard pass from Timmy Culicerto to Jordan Meadows in the second quarter to break a scoreless tie, Liberty scored back-to-back touchdowns on a 3-yard Tre’Shaun McDowell run and a 28-yard pass from Hunter Wright to Christian Whittaker.
The Raiders had a chance to add another, driving to the Shady 2-yard line just before halftime, but they were turned away without points.
“I don’t think we played great, but we did enough to win,” said Liberty head coach Jeff Alexander, still frustrated about the missed opportunities. “We did enough to get by. We had to gut it out on defense.
“We should have put it away early, but we let them keep hanging around.”
Down 14-6 when the third quarter began, the visitors came storming back, scoring on a 7-yard Culicerto touchdown run to pull within two points. The conversion attempt failed, though, and on Liberty’s next play from scrimmage, McDowell bobbled a handoff, only to find the grip and race 61 yards for a touchdown to put his team ahead 20-12.
That’s the way the third quarter ended, but the Tigers scored on the first play of the final frame when Culicerto hit Steven Chhabra in stride on a post pattern that the receiver ran into the end zone. The 2-point play failed again, and it seemed as though Shady would spend the rest of the night chasing those two points.
It didn’t take long, though, for the Tigers to even things up.
Liberty thought it had made a huge play, stopping Shady Spring running back Tyler Hanson on a fourth-and-2 from the Raiders’ 3-yard line, but Shady turned that negative into a positive, tackling McDowell in the end zone on the ensuing play for a safety that tied the game with a little less than 8 minutes left to play.
The game remained knotted as the clock ticked under 3 minutes, but Shady drove into the red zone thinking overtime in a worst case scenario.
That’s when the Talley brothers changed the game with a play they’ll never forget.
“It means a lot, because this senior group had never beat Shady,” said Ricky Talley. “So it was a big win.
“We’re taught to work hard, and we stuck to it. We’re never going to give up.”
Whittaker ended the game with 43 yards on 12 carries, while McDowell had 77 rushing yards on just six totes. Wright was having a big night with 149 passing yards in two quarters, before the injury ended his night. His status for the regular season finale Friday at Wyoming East is unknown.
“I just know he has a thigh issue, but I’m not sure what it is yet,” said Alexander. “We don’t rep our No. 2 quarterback a lot, so we had to change everything.”
Hanson had a strong game in the loss for Shady Spring, gaining 106 yards on 25 carries. The Tigers will end the regular season at Musselman on Friday.
— E-mail: chuffman
SS (1-8) 0 6 6 8 — 20
LIB (4-5) 0 14 6 8 — 28
SS: Jordan Meadows 24 pass from Timmy Culicerto (Run fails) 10:38
LIB: Tre’Shaun McDowell 3 run (Run fails) 6:04
LIB: Christian Whittaker 28 pass from Hunter Wright (Wright pass to Robbie Wright) 1:56
SS: Culicerto 7 run (Run fails) 4:23
LIB: McDowell 61 run (Run fails) 4:06
SS: Steven Chhabra 33 pass from Culicerto (Pass fails) 11:51
SS: McDowell tackled in end zone for safety 7:53
LIB: Rickey Talley 65 fumble recovery (McDowell run) 1:46
RUSHING — SS: Tyler Hanson 25-106, Joel White 18-56, Timmy Culicerto 9-25, John Lively 1-minus 26, Robert Perry 3-8. LIB: Hunter Scarbro 1-3, Hunter Wright 12-43, Christian Whittaker 12-43, Tre’Shaun McDowell 6-77, Deontae Acord 1-5, Jordan Hosaflook 1-minus 1.
PASSING — SS: Culicerto 8-21-1-75 . LIB: Hunter Wright 6-18-1-149, Hosaflook 0-3-1-0.
RECEIVING — SS: Jordan Meadows 3-34, Patrick Sawyers 1-16, Tyler Hanson 2-10, Andrew Green 2-15. LIB: McDowell 3-19, Chandler Stewart 3-115, Whittaker 1-15.
TAKEAWAYS — SS: Culicerto (2 INT), Parker Unroe (FR), . LIB: McDowell (FR), Hosaflook, Rickey Talley (FR).