In a game that seemingly featured big play after big play, Liberty Christian came up with the biggest plays of all — on defense.
Josiah Hartzler returned an interception 9 yards for a touchdown to give Liberty a commanding 13-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, helping the Warriors secure momentum in a wild back-and-forth contest.
Liberty never relinquished that lead and kept the momentum for good following a second interception return for a touchdown. JonAaron Howell did the damage this time, weaving through the Plano John Paul II defense on a 67-yard play.
The two back-breaking turnovers helped Liberty crush the Cardinals 51-21 at UNT’s Apogee Stadium in a TAPPS District 1-5A contest Friday night.
Howell proved to be Liberty’s biggest scoring catalyst, finding the end zone on offense, defense and special teams to hand the Warriors (5-2, 2-1 district) their first 50-point outburst of the season. The junior running back rushed for 115 yards on 10 carries, added four catches for 59 yards and scored four touchdowns.
But it was his first touchdown of the night that set the tone for the game.
John Paul’s Merek Pierce answered Liberty’s first big play of the night — a 34-yard Josiah Hartzler touchdown pass from quarterback Foster Ford — with an even bigger one of his own. Pierce returned the ensuing kickoff 105 yards untouched to tie the game 7-7 with 8:22 to play in the first quarter.
Unfazed, Howell answered right back in 16 seconds. Catching the following kickoff at the right hash mark on his own 4-yard line, Howell broke off his own 96-yard touchdown return by fighting through a couple would-be tacklers and outracing the final three defenders into the far left corner of the end zone for a 13-7 Liberty lead.
The Cardinals (1-6, 0-4) answered midway through the second quarter on a 65-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Cook to Cameron Meziere, taking a 14-13 lead. But the advantage would be short-lived, as Ford led the Warriors on an 11-play, 65-yard scoring drive that he capped with a second touchdown pass to Hartzler that gave Liberty a 20-14 lead.
John Paul would not get any closer the rest of the game as the Warriors scored 31 of the game’s final 38 points while rolling up 427 yards of offense. Howell simply finished the Cardinals off himself, scoring three of his four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including the final points of the night on a 29-yard scoring run.
Liberty Christian 51, Plano John Paul II 21
Liberty — Josiah Hartzler 34-yard pass from Foster Ford (Mikael Sroka kick) 8:35
John Paul — Merek Pierce 105-yard kickoff return (Andres Nunez kick) 8:22
Liberty — JonAaron Howell 96-yard kickoff return (kick failed) 8:06
John Paul — Cameron Meziere 65-yard pass from Ryan Cook (Nunez kick) 1:26
Liberty — Hartzler 10-yard pass from Ford (Sroka kick) 8:41
Liberty — Hartzler 9-yard interception return (Sroka kick) 4:36
John Paul — Meziere 14-yard pass from Cook (Nunez kick) 1:04
Liberty — Sroka 23-yard field goal 6:45
Liberty — Howell 9-yard run (Sroka kick) 8:25
Liberty — Howell 67-yard interception return (Sroka kick) 6:53
Liberty — Howell 29-yard run (Sroka kick) 1:33
Rushing — JP: Ryan Cook 19-64, Austin Barnes 6-3, Nick Finer 2-5; LC: Cameron Cornett 15-71, JonAaron Howell 10-115, Foster Ford 9-9, Ben Hawkins 2-(-2)
Passing — JP: Ryan Cook 8-21-2 135; LC: Foster Ford 20-27-1 234
Receiving — JP: Cameron Meziere 6-135, Nick Finer 1-1, Andres Nunez 1-(-1); LC: Josiah Hartzler 5-64, Hunter Griffith 4-40, JonAaron Howell 4-59, Graham Richardson 3-24, Mitchell Roswell 2-28, Matt Tatum 1-13, Gavin Menichini 1-6