There was a little bit of the good, the bad and the ugly in Friday night’s early-season showdown between Liberty and Ridgeview.
The good — or more accurately, the great — started early for the Patriots when quarterback Haden Mann and speedy receiver Ramon Henderson connected on an 85-yard touchdown pass on the team’s opening play from scrimmage.
The play set the stage for a 21-point surge that gave Liberty enough breathing room to hold off Ridgeview 21-13, despite plenty of bad and ugly from both teams in the second half.
“I thought our defense played well,” said Liberty coach Bryan Nixon, whose team out-gained Ridgeview 410 to 229. “They had their backs against the wall a few times and kept them out of the end zone. I’m very pleased with that the last two weeks. There’s definitely a lot of things we can work on, but we’re in a good position right now.”
Henderson finished with five catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns, including a 24-yard scoring pass from Mann that gave Liberty a 21-0 lead with 5:47 left in the first half. All of his catches either went for scores or resulted in a first down.
Mann was 11 for 20 passing for 224 yards and three touchdowns, including a 31-yard scoring pass to Dylan Tooker that gave the Patriots a 14-0 first-quarter lead. Prentice Boone rushed for a team-high 81 yards on 18 carries.
“I thought we started fast,” Nixon said. “We talked about that and we came out that way. But the second half … three turnovers, and a lot of penalties. I thought that hurt us.”
Boy did it.
The Patriots turned the ball over on their first three possessions of the second half, and finished with 16 penalties for 144 yards.
“We have to watch the film and see why we made those mistakes, see what’s happening and see what we did and try to work on it and get better,” Nixon said. “It is uncharacteristic of us, but thank God it’s Week 2.”
Meanwhile, Ridgeview managed to stay close, converting Liberty’s miscues into a pair of Fabien Guillen field goals — from 32 and 38 yards — in the second half and made it a one-score game with 35 seconds left.
“Our kids battled,” said Ridgeview coach Rich Cornford, whose team failed on an onside kick attempt and Liberty took a knee to run out the clock. “It looked somewhat hopeless there down two scores with under two minutes to go, but we gave ourselves a chance if we recover an onside kick to at least have a shot at it.”
Leading 21-7 at the half, the Patriots looked to add to their lead when they used a 10-play drive to move into Ridgeview territory. But on a first-and-10 from the 36, Ridgeview’s Mekhi Deans forced a fumble and teammate Marquise Casteel recovered following a short pass play from Mann to Damian Harless.
On Liberty’s next possession, Jojo Montecino returned a punt 64 yards for a score, only to have it called back because of an illegal block.
Things went from bad to ugly seven plays later when the Wolf Pack’s Anthony Ramirez intercepted a Mann pass to stall another drive. It eventually led to a 32-yard field goal by Guillen to cut the lead to 21-10 on the opening play of the fourth quarter.
The Patriots coughed up the ball again on their next drive, this time deep in their own territory, giving Ridgeview the ball at the 39. But the Wolf Pack gave the ball back when quarterback Justin Hinzo fumbled on a 3-and-1 from the 30 and Liberty was able to burn more than seven minutes off the clock on its next two possessions.
“It was an odd game, a little bit sloppy,” Cornford said. “They turned it over a few times, we definitely turned it over a few times in some critical situations. It’s stuff that we can definitely get better at.”
Ridgeview (1-1) shook off its slow start, and began to move the ball last in the second quarter. Hinzo, who misfired on several early passes — seven in a row at one point — found his groove with a 15-yard first-down pass to Shawn Allen, followed by two big penalties on Liberty to push the Wolf Pack into the red zone.
Hinzo found Allen again on a corner route in the end zone from 16 yards out to trim the Patriots lead to 21-7 with 4:53 to play in the half. Hinzo finished 16 for 31 for 177 yards, while Allen had six catches for 60 yards.
It was a lot like last week (a 44-21 win over Stockdale),” Cornford said. “ We found somewhat of a rhythm, the defense settled in. Offensively, we’re just too inconsistent. I took too many shots deep, I should have really worked at running the ball. We all have to get better.
“What was really a big is, we were in third and long a lot, and that’s a bad situation against Liberty. We need to be in better convertible situations than that.
“Liberty is very good. They’re the standard. We showed that we’re a little short of that standard, but we’re closer than we were last year when we lost 38-0.”
Liberty 21, Ridgeview 13
L: Henderson 85 pass from Mann (Blevins kick)
L: Tooker 31 pass from Mann (Blevins kick)
L: Henderson 24 pass from Mann (Blevins kick)
R: Allen 16 pass from Hinzo (Guillen kick)
R: Guillen 32 FG
R: Guillen 38 FG
RUSHING: Liberty, Boone 18-81, Muniz 14-50, Mann 8-33, Mariscal 2-12, Shores 2-10, Henderson 1-0. Ridgeview, Amos 4-40, Heinz 16-9, Ramirez 2-2, Allen 5-1.
PASSING: Liberty, Mann 11-20-1-224. Ridgeview, Heinz 16-31-1-177.
RECEIVING: Liberty, Henderson 5-146, Tooker 1-31, Boone 2-24, Oliver 2-20, Harless 1-3. Ridgeview, Allen 6-60, Hall 6-47, Amos 1-32, Casteel 2-19, Lucas 1-19.
JV: Liberty 42, Ridgeview 8.