Prep Football

Iowa City Liberty shows strength in win over Clear Creek Amana

Lightning rally to win 28-21, avenging last season's 30-point loss

NORTH LIBERTY — Iowa City Liberty football coach Jeff Gordon tests his team’s mettle during morning lifts.

If they aren’t pushing themselves during AP Lifting, he will get after them and then they have no choice but to work harder. Friday night was a big reason why he does it.

“They had busted their tail in the weight room,” Gordon said. “I think it showed tonight.”

Liberty took control in the second half, shutting out Clear Creek Amana after the break and scoring the last two touchdowns in a 28-21 victory in Class 3A District 5 prep football action at Liberty.

“I’m really proud of our guys how they responded to adversity,” Gordon said. “Came out after halftime, we realized whatever is going to happen we’re going to go hit them. They really wanted to do that. I’m really proud of them.”

Liberty’s key drive bracketed the break of the fourth quarter, trailing 21-20. The Lightning served up a steady diet of Max Tafolla runs — eight straight official carries to be exact — in the middle of the 13-play, 59-yard drive.

Facing second-and-goal from the 12, Gordon switched gears and caught the Clippers off guard. Quarterback Drake Woody carried out a play-action fake, rolled to his left and hit Ben Houselog near the sideline for the go-ahead score. The duo also combined for the ensuing conversion for a 28-21 lead.


“We knew that we had been running the ball over and over,” Woody said. “We knew they were going to expect more of a run, so our coach ran a smart play.

“I knew instantly it was going to work because in practice every single time it has been working. We have such a good connection. Our line takes care of their line and it all worked out. It was a good ball and a great catch.”

During the drive, Tafolla converted a key fourth-and-2 from the 49. The Clippers had stuffed Liberty twice previously, including on a short conversion run to keep a 21-20 edge.

“We just looked each other in the eyes,” Tafolla said. “We thought to ourselves that we’re brothers out there. No one else is going to stop us. That’s all it took. Nothing special.”

They also stopped Liberty on fourth-and-short, but Gordon kept showing faith in his line and it paid off.

“That’s what we do and that’s who we are,” Gordon said. “We’ve got to be able to do that.”

The defense set up the Liberty’s first second-half score, forcing a quick punt that was shanked out of bounds after a fumbled snap. The Lightning took over at the Clippers 24 and Jack Ankenbauer scored his second 1-yard TD of the game, but the conversion attempt failed.

Tafolla was a workhorse for Liberty. He rushed for 138 yards on 29 carries.

“He can squat 500 pounds,” Gordon said. “It’s just like that.”

Kaleb Williams also added 108 yards, including a 46-yard TD to put Liberty on the board in the first quarter. His 21-yard gain set up Ankenbauer’s first score with 3:01 left in the second quarter.


Liberty’s defense was stout the final two quarters, limiting the Clippers to less than 40 yards in the second half. Greg Mitchell and Darious Willis-Newell had key interceptions of Ryan Navara.

“It was great,” Gordon said. “Greg Mitchell had one at the end. He had been playing outside linebacker. Threw him at free safety. Makes a huge play.”

The Liberty defense buckled down after the break after being picked apart by Navara, who completed 12 of 13 passes, including his first 10 attempts, for 150 yards and threw for two touchdowns before the break.

His first scoring strike was a 20-yard, perfectly-placed pass to Gage Freeman, dropping the ball in the back left corner of the end zone for a 14-7 lead with 28 seconds left in the opening quarter.

Navara orchestrated an incredible 80-yard, 11-play drive late in the first half. He rolled to his right and hit Harrison Rosenberg for a 6-yard score with 19 seconds left for a 21-14 halftime lead.

“As much as we’re celebrating as a team, I’m more relieved,” Gordon said. “If we play those guys nine more times we might lose to them nine times. They have a very impressive team.”

Liberty held Navara to four completions for 18 yards in the second half.

“We obviously stopped them on their big plays,” Woody said. “We did well on defense.”

Liberty improves to 4-1 overall and 1-0 in district play. The Lightning have already surpassed the win total of their inaugural varsity season. They suffered some whippings a year ago, including a 30-point loss to the Clippers. The 2019 results prove the progress, especially Friday’s victory.


“They are tough as nails,” Gordon said. “They are tough physically, but more so mentally. We got it put on us pretty good by a lot of teams last year and we could all quit, but instead they decided to go to work. I’m really happy they’re having some success.”

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