His arm sore and his body tired, Liberty quarterback Josh Medina flashed a megawatt smile after Friday night's 27-26 home victory over Stockdale -- the second one-point victory for the Patriots in a row.
"Oh, this game," he said. "These kind of games are fun, but they're also nerve-wracking. They build character, though."
Character showed up for the Patriots (7-1, 2-1 Southwest Yosemite League) in the form of a 13-play, 80-yard drive that used up almost all of the available time in the fourth quarter. It ended with Medina's 11-yard touchdown run on third down and Zach Sullivan's extra point that provided the winning margin.
"It was a great drive," Stockdale coach Mike Snow said. "It was a great job by the Liberty staff getting that score and taking up all the time. They grinded it on us."
Stockdale broke a 20-20 tie with Anthony Wood's 4-yard touchdown run with 6:58 remaining, but failed the extra point. Liberty used 10 runs, three passes and three third-down conversions to use up 5:37, take the lead and leave Stockdale with just 1:21 on the clock.
"We wanted to go down and score, obviously, but we wanted to take up as much time as we possibly could," Liberty coach Bryan Nixon said. "We know (Stockdale) is explosive, and we wanted them to have as little time as possible."
The Mustangs (4-4, 2-1) ran for 405 yards, but quarterback Drew Allen was sacked twice on their last-ditch drive, which ended with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-21.
"We went back and forth all night, and unfortunately, they had the ball last," Snow said. "That's what we were trying to do. But I'm thrilled with the way my kids played. They never stopped fighting."
Stockdale out-gained Liberty 475-378, but they lost the special-teams battle in nearly every way: The Mustangs missed one extra point, lost another on a bad snap, went 1-for-2 on two-point conversions and had a snap fly over their punter's head.
"We left a few points on the table," Snow said. "You can't blame one unit, but special teams, that usually doesn't get the attention of the offense and defense. But they out-performed us there tonight.
Liberty kicker Zach Sullivan hit two field goals -- the second one from 41 yards to tie the game at 20 late in the third quarter -- boomed six touchbacks on kickoffs and hit all of his extra points, including the game-winner. He did the same last week, when Frontier missed two late extra points and Sullivan hit the winning extra point in a 37-36 overtime victory.
"Zach came through in the clutch the last two weeks," Nixon said. "That's a very encouraging sign for us."
There were four lead changes in the first half, which ended with Stockdale holding just a 20-17 lead despite 396 yards of offense. All three of the Mustangs' starting running backs passed the 100-yard mark: Xavier Chisholm had 178 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries; Wood ran for 137 yards and a touchdown, and Adarius Rowel had 106 and another score. Stockdale had nine plays of 20 yards or more in the first half but none after halftime.
For Liberty, Medina was 12-of-20 passing for 111 yards despite suffering a stinger in his right elbow late in the first half that he said made his arm go numb for 20 minutes. He also ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns.
"Their defense was giving us the run," he said. "They let us run the ball, so we pounded it."
And so, Liberty, thanks to another heart-pounding victory -- 43-41 in triple overtime over Tri-River Athletic Conference leader Fresno-Central -- is somehow still in line for a top-three seed in the Division I section playoffs. After victories of 37-36 and 27-26, what could possibly be next?
"Hey, at the end of the day, we'll take it any way we can get it," Nixon said. "We've had some battles, but we've found ways to win. The kids are resilient, and they've found ways to win."