NORTH LIBERTY — The Lightning flashed when they needed, defeating cross-school district rival Iowa City High, 23-20, Friday night on the leg of kicker Ryan Nugent.
Quarterback Drake Woody floated a perfect pass to Ben Houselog for 36 yards to set up Iowa City Liberty deep inside Little Hawk territory with less than one minute to go in the season-opening high school football game.
It was Liberty’s longest play from scrimmage all night.
The Lightning inched closer to the goal line with runs from Maxwell Tafolla, and Nugent chipped a 19-yard field goal with six seconds left to give the Lightning their first varsity football win over City High.
Before that, though, there was little flash or flight in the game.
The Little Hawks opened the first quarter with a bruising 12-play, 79-yard drive that ate up more than eight minutes. Running back Tonka Hickman danced his way down the field in bits and pieces, taking City to within one yard to of the goal line. Quarterback Raphe Hamilton kept the ball for a 1-yard TD run. After the snap on the ensuing extra point try was bobbled, City was up 6-0.
Liberty almost tied the game on its first play on offense when Tafolla broke through the line and found a lot of open grass. However, he was caught from behind after gaining 19 yards. The Lightning ground their way into the Little Hawk red zone with runs from Tafolla and Kaleb Williams. After a pass on third and 8 sailed too high, the Lightning went for it on fourth down. Houselog caught a lob from Woody in the back of the end zone to tie the game.
The Little Hawks blocked the extra point to preserve the tie.
City returned to its bread and butter ground game, grinding out another long drive, this one for 71 yards and over nine minutes. Hamilton punched the ball across the goal line from 1 yard out and threw to a wide-open Richardson for a 2-point conversion to take the lead, 14-6.
Williams and Tafolla gashed the Little Hawk defense on Liberty’s next drive, moving the Lightning down the field to tie the game with a 6-yard touchdown run and 2-point conversion.
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Liberty took the lead after halftime with a Tafolla touchdown, but another 2-point conversion failed when the Little Hawk defense stopped Williams short of the line.
After each team traded punts on the next four possessions, Hickman tied the game for the Little Hawks after catching the corner of the end zone on a 28-yard run. With the game tied, 20-20, City opted to go for two instead of kicking an extra point. The Lightning stopped City’s John Klosterman short to keep the game tied.