EARL WATT • Leader & Times
HOLCOMB — Liberal may have had a slow start to Friday’s season opener against Holcomb, but they had a fast finish to score the go-ahead touchdown with 18.2 seconds to play to secure a dramatic 23-17 win.
Liberal’s first half was anything but smooth. The Redskins racked up several holding penalties and dropped passes, killing drives and forcing punts.
Liberal’s running game struggled to move the ball, and senior quarterback Brooks Kappelmann had to call his own number most of the night.
Neither team scored in the first quarter, but the Longhorns put together a 15-play, 77-yard scoring drive to start the second quarter that was dominated by the running game and also including a 36-yard pass.
The Liberal defense forced a third-and-11 near the Redskins 15 yard line, but the Longhorns were able to score on a sweep to the right to take a 7-0 lead.
Neither team scored the rest of the half, and after the Redskins defense forced a Holcomb punt on the first drive of the third quarter, Liberal took over at its own 20 yard line.
Kappelmann attempted a short pass to the flat on second down, but Holcomb intercepted it and returned it to the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
But the Redskins responded with their first scoring drive of the season with a seven play, 78-yard drive that included a 46-yard pass to Zayden Martinez and a 28-yard pass to Aidan Schwindt.
Kappelmann ran the ball in to the end zone from the 2 yard line, and after a two-point conversion, the Holcomb lead was cut to 14-8.
Holcomb had some penalty issues to start its next drive, and after cutting a first-and-20 to a third-and-10, the Longhorns attempted a pass that was intercepted by Aidan Mata and returns 45 yards for a Liberal touchdown.
After the extra point, Liberal had a 15-14 lead late in the third quarter.
The Liberal defense forced another turnover on Holcomb’s next drive with an interception by Adan Amador, but Liberal couldn’t take advantage and punted four plays later.
Holcomb took over at its own 40 yard line and put together a 12-play drive that took more than six minutes off the clock and ended with a field goal to give the Longhorns a 17-15 lead with 3:31 to play.
The Redskins moved the ball to their own 35 yard line and faced a fourth-and-seven. Coach Bryan Luetters opted to go for it, and he kept the ball in the hands of Kappelmann who darted up the left side of the line and dodged two would-be tacklers. He then shook another tackler and drug two more on a 24-yard gain to set up a first down at the Holcomb 40 yard line.
Anthony Argonez picked up 11 yards on an end around, and Kappelmann ran for another first down near the Holcomb 20 yard line with less than a minute to play.
With the clock running, Kappelmann attempted a pass to the flat that landed incomplete, and on second down he threw a pass to the left side to Zayden Martinez who made the catch at the 1 yard line, and he took on a defender and dove across the goal line for a touchdown with 18.2 seconds to play.
The Redskins added a two-point conversion for a 23-17 lead, and after the kickoff the Angry Red defense forced four straight incompletions as time expired to secure the come-from-behind win.
Kappelmann rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown and threw for 180 yards and a touchdown.
Martinez had four receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown.
The opening win avenged last season’s home loss to Holcomb.
Liberal (1-0) will play its first home game of the season at 7 p.m. Friday when the Redskins host Emporia (0-1). The Spartans opened the season with a 54-28 loss to Pittsburg.