Liberty 16, Fauquier 13
High school football doesn't get much better than it did Friday night in Bealeton. It wasn't that the play between No. 13 Liberty and Fauquier was perfect. In fact, it was often sloppy, and the Eagles contributed their share of penalties.
But it was also filled with the kind of raw emotion that comes only when cross-town rivals meet. That's especially the case when it seems all during the game that the improbable just might happen.
Liberty, which outscored Fauquier by a combined 90-7 in two meetings last year to bookend its undefeated regular season run, this time needed a fourth-quarter comeback to pull out a 16-13 victory in the season opener for both schools.
"This isn't the way we wanted this one to go, not at all," Liberty senior running back Justin Carrington said. "But a win is a win, and that's all that matters in the end. Whether it's a three-point win or a 30-point win, we'll take it just the same.
"I saw a lot of heart from Fauquier tonight, and I told that to every single one of their players as we shook hands in the line. They've got heart -- and they've proved themselves to me."
The atmosphere at Liberty's stadium matched the drama on the field. The school's parking lot began to fill more than an hour before kickoff as cars continued to line the left turn lane that leads from Route 17 south into the lot. A few fans even put on the kind of tailgating usually reserved for college or professional football games, setting up grills and coolers on the grass next to the Eagles' baseball field.
The crowd filled both sets of bleachers to capacity and lined the fence around the field about five deep.
"This is high school football at its best," Fauquier Coach Tom Ferrell said. "It's so disappointing for the kids. But I'm also really, really proud of the way they played."
The Falcons gave their crowd reason to cheer from start to finish. They controlled the line of scrimmage throughout most of the game, showed flashes of great speed and won the turnover battle. In the process, Fauquier held Liberty scoreless in the first half, something no regular season opponent accomplished against the Eagles last season. In fact, Liberty collected more yards in penalties (75) than it did on offense (68) in the opening half.
The Falcons also twice held the lead, going ahead 7-0 in the first quarter on a 28-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Zach Caito to senior Ryan Mettinger. And after Liberty had scored twice to take its first lead at 9-7 on a 22-yard field goal by Steven Malik with 11 minutes 17 seconds remaining, the Falcons answered on the first play of their next drive. Senior halfback Chris Douglas (10 carries, 80 yards) burst up the middle and then raced down the right sideline for a 65-yard score and a 13-9 Falcons advantage.
"No one believed in us, even at our own school," said Fauquier junior linebacker Barry Womack, who put on an impressive defensive display and also rushed for 27 yards. "So we came out here with something to prove, I guess. And I think we earned some respect. The only thing we didn't do was get the win."
That's because the Eagles did the two things they most needed to help their cause in the second half: They remained patient and did not stray from their game plan. Liberty had seven players run the ball but, as expected, leaned heavily on Carrington. He had just 14 yards at halftime but finished with a game-high 127 yards on 24 carries.
Junior Aaron Hull (5 carries, 29 yards) put on the finishing touches with a 19-yard touchdown run around left end with 2:32 to play for the final points.
"We told the kids at halftime that we weren't going to do anything different," Liberty Coach Tommy Buzzo said. "And we didn't. The reason we looked better in the second half is because we're a strong football team. We didn't have anybody starting two ways, and they had six guys doing it. I thought because of that we'd eventually be able to wear them down, and that's what happened a little bit."