ARGYLE — Kason Howell may be committed to play baseball at Auburn, but it was his consistent play-making ability on the football field that gave Liberty Christian one of its biggest regular season wins in program history.
Howell came up big in just about every phase of the game, scoring the team's only touchdown on a five-yard yard run while also adding three long punt returns and a late interception to halt a Celina scoring drive.
The Warriors fed off their senior leader to knock off No. 7 Celina for the first time in 20 years in a 10-9 nail biter Friday night.
"It just gives more credibility to our program and gives our team a lot of confidence that we can compete against the traditional powerhouses," Liberty Christian coach Barton Hundley said. "It was really a huge win for us. We wanted it."
The Liberty defense was the difference in the game, as the Warriors were able to hold a traditionally high-octane Celina offense to just 227 total yards. Despite struggling offensively in the first half, Liberty came up with defensive stop after defensive stop to stay in the game early.
Liberty's offense had several long drives and scoring opportunities that were hampered by penalties, turnovers and other mistakes.
On their opening possession, the Warriors drove into the red zone with ease. But a snap over the head of quarterback Grant Galyean ended up costing Liberty 20 yards and forced the team to punt.
Liberty punted on its next possession as well before finally breaking the ice on the scoreboard by way of a 35-yard field goal from junior kicker Cameron Baller. The Warriors didn't score again until the fourth quarter.
"We talked about adversity and how not everything was going to go perfect," Hundley said. "We knew the way we handled adversity would dictate how this game would go."
Hundley was right. Fortunately for the Warriors, the team responded well to a lot of late-game adversity.
After Celina took a 7-3 lead in the third quarter, Liberty regained the lead on Howell's 5-yard touchdown run with 8:27 remaining in the game. Hundley lined Howell up under center and allowed his best player to take the snap and outrun the defense to the corner of the end zone.
On the ensuing Celina possession, Howell seemingly sealed the win with an interception on the 1-yard line with less than 1:30 remaining. But the Liberty defense had to come back onto the field when the Bobcats forced a safety to pull within one point.
Howell and the Warriors defense, headlined by Keimoniee Greene and Isreal Isuman, were ready for the challenge.
"We were swarming all night and that's what we knew we had to keep doing," Howell said. "We just got together and rallied up. We did what we had been doing all night and it paid off."
The Warriors defense forced a turnover on downs on the final possession of the game to seal the victory. Liberty will have another big challenge next week as the team travels to take on No. 2 Gilmer.
"The atmosphere we created tonight just needs to carry on," Howell said. "This was a big win for us."
Liberty Christian 10, Celina 9
|Arg. Liberty Chr.||3||0||0||7||--||10|
LB — Cameron Baller 35 FG
CL — Ryan Nebeker 2 run (Jesus Rodriguez kick)
LB — Kason Howell 5 run (Cameron Baller kick)
CL — 0 safety, ball carrier tackled in endzone
Rushing — CL: Jesus Rodriguez 1-36, Ryan Nebeker 15-23, Noah Ross 18-22, Ismael Ortiz 3-18, Taison Holman 10-16, Logan Point 4-11, LB: Andre Washington 16-91, Kason Howell 1-5, Garrett Moran 1-1, Ty Strickland 1--1, Grant Galyean 2--8, Nate Hayden 2--17, Team Stat 2--23.
Passing — CL: Noah Ross 9-22-2-101, LB: Grant Galyean 4-9-1-87, Nate Hayden 4-9-0-50.
Receiving — CL: Major Martin 2-51, Ryan Nebeker 4-19, Riley Plunkett 1-16, Ismael Ortiz 1-8, Logan Point 1-7, LB: Kason Howell 1-38, Kellen Moran 1-33, Andre Washington 2-29, Grant Sawyer 1-16, Garrett Moran 2-15, Ty Baran 1-6.