Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – The first ever battle for the Titan Trophy between City High and Liberty High left something to be desired from an execution standpoint.
But from an excitement standpoint, Friday’s game delivered in a big way.
Liberty overcame a rash of penalties, three turnovers and an early 10-point deficit to edge the Little Hawks 28-24 at Bates Field.
Sophomore quarterback Tye Hughes scored the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 5.6 seconds left to play.
Liberty had recovered its own fumble two players earlier at the City High 1-yard line to keep the drive alive.
“I’ve never been more proud to be a Bolt, and I’ve never been more proud of the Bolts,” said Liberty head coach Jeff Gordon. “Just their way to overcome adversity, and sometimes, we cause it ourselves, that it would have been real easy for this group of guys to quit.
“But that’s what we talk about, the character and the resolve that they need to have for the rest of their life. I’m sky high because I’m so proud whether we won or loss. How it started, it could have been fifty to nothing and our guys just kept believing and fighting and some Bolt made a play.”
It might not have just been luck that helped Liberty recover its own fumble with the game on the line in the closing seconds.
“We practice fumble drill every day,” Gordon said. “We didn’t want to fumble, but we got the ball back and gave ourselves a chance.”
On the other end of the emotional roller coaster was City High veteran head coach Dan Sabers, who sympathized with his players afterwards.
“Oh man, the thing was that both teams battled and nobody quit,” Sabers said. “It was who could survive the mistakes the most.
“And I’ve got some good kids. So I don’t know why that all happens.”
Both teams were playing just their fourth game of the season after having three games postponed due to concerns with the COVID-19 global pandemic.
And it showed, especially early.
Liberty lost a fumble on its opening possession, and then City High lost a fumble on its first possession after having driven to the Liberty 1-yard line.
Liberty also fumbled on its second possession when Hughes was sacked. The ball pooped loose and was recovered by City High junior linebacker Joey Bouska in the end zone for a touchdown with 7 minutes, 19 seconds left in the first quarter.
Junior Kongolo Mwenemkamba then made a 27-yard field goal to expand City High’s lead to 10-0 with 3:52 left in the first quarter.
His field goal was set up by an interception by junior Gable Mitchell on a ball that was deflected at the line of scrimmage.
Liberty finally got on the board when junior running back Darius Willis-Newell broke loose for a 31-yard touchdown run with 10:40 left in the second quarter.
But then Bouska scored on a 5-yard run and Mwenemkamba converted the point-after kick to give City High a 17-7 lead with 3:06 left before halftime.
City High still led 17-7 heading into the third quarter, but the momentum quickly shifted to Liberty’s side as junior defensive back Luke Meyers returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown with 7:22 left in the third quarter.
Liberty took its first lead of the game when Willis-Newell scored on a 17-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter.
City High answered with a 5-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Raph Hamilton with 5:16 left to play.
The Lightning took over at their own 32-yard line with 5:10 remaining and then drove for the winning touchdown.
Senior receiver Brody Fishman had two key receptions on the drive, including a 16-yarder from Hughes that gave Liberty a first down at the City High 1 with nine seconds remaining.
Hughes started having more success once Liberty’s ground attack began to click behind Willis-Newell, who finished with 140 rushing yards on 22 carries.
“He’s a sophomore so he was a little nervous early,” Willis-Newell said of Hughes, who is the son of former Iowa linebacker Matt Hughes. “But he knew we had to come out and win this one. He was really excited for us.”
Asked what it meant to win the inaugural battle for the Titan trophy, Willis-Newell said:
“It means a lot because it’s the first time we got to battle for the Clash of the Titans against City.”
Hughes finished with 101 passing yards and showed poise as the game progressed.
He has only been the starting quarterback for barely one week, replacing junior James McKinney, who now plays receiver, along with starting at safety on defense.
“It’s just like everybody, everybody competes for a tackle spot, everybody competes and he won that competition,” Gordon said of Hughes. “And the guy he beat out also did a great job at wide receiver and played every snap at free safety for us.
“So it’s that next-man-in mentality.”
Liberty will take a 2-2 record into the Class 4A playoffs, while City High is 1-3 heading into the playoffs, which will start next Friday.
“Our effort was pretty darn good, it was just those problems that we’ve had and they just keep coming up and biting us,” Sabers said. “But we’re going to play somebody somewhere.”
First downs 14 15
Rushes-yards 31-141 42-196
Passing yards 101 84
Penalties-yards 9-65 9-95
Fumbles-lost 3-2 3-2
Punts 3-40.5 3-34.0
Liberty High 0 7 7 14 – 28
City High 10 7 0 7 – 24
ICH – Joey Bouska fumble recovery in end zone (Kongolo Mwenemkamba kick)
ICH – Mwenemkamba 27 FG
ICL – Darius Willis-Newell 31 run (Emerson Bennett kick)
ICH – Bouska 5 run (Mwenemkamba kick)
ICL – Luke Meyers 25 interception return (Bennett kick)
ICL – Willis-Newell 17 run (Bennett kick)
ICH – Raph Hamilton 5 run (Mwenemkamba kick)
ICL – Tye Hughes 1 run (Bennet kick)
RUSHING – Liberty High: Darius Willis-Newell 22-140, Tye Hughes 6-minus-5, Luke Meyers 1-3, Michael Miller 1-3 Beau Miller 1-0. City High: Raph Hamilton 14-75, Jamari Newson 15-54, Joey Bouska 7033, Darren Richardson 3-19, Ben Kueter 2-11, Ky Shawn Voss 1-4.
PASSING – Liberty High: Tye Hughes 7-11-1 101. City High: Raph Hamilton 9-13-1 84
RECEIVING – Liberty High: Brody Fishman 5-58, James McKinney 1-33, Daqwan Sanders 1-10.