BRISTOL — Champions win these types of games.
Liberty County erased a 19-point deficit in the fourth quarter, and Dustin Watson’s touchdown run and Marco Espinoza’s extra point in overtime lifted the Bulldogs to a stunning 26-25 victory over Port St. Joe.
Liberty County’s come-from-behind win was made even sweeter in that the Bulldogs claimed the District 4-1A championship with the victory. The Bulldogs improved to 8-2 overall and 4-0 in the district. Conversely, the loss couldn’t have been more devastating for Port St. Joe, which missed an opportunity to force a three-team playoff to determine the district’s two entrants in the playoffs.
Despite their struggles in the final quarter, the Tiger Sharks (6-3, 2-2) rebounded to score on their first possession of overtime on Troy Williams’ 8-yard scamper to his left. PSJ, which missed two point-after attempts in regulation, suffered a botched snap on the two-point conversion and led just 25-19.
After a PSJ player was flagged for grabbing a player’s face mask on third-and-goal on the ensuing possession, Watson run up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown to even the score. Espinoza, a freshman place-kicker who had missed two extra points earlier, split the uprights with his final attempt and then hurried toward the on-coming mass of teammates headed his direction from the sideline to celebrate.
Liberty County trailed 19-0 through three quarters but clawed back into contention with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Watson scored on a 3-yard run on the first play of the final quarter, and he capped the Bulldogs’ next possession with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Ben Beckwith to pull his team within 19-13 with 7:06 remaining in the contest.
PSJ was trying to seal the victory in the game’s waning moments when Williams made an ill-advised pass across the field. Liberty County’s Alex Marlowe stepped in front of the pass and returned the interception 60 yards for a touchdown and a 19-19 tie.
The Tiger Sharks’ rushing tandem of Jarkice Davis and Dusty Richter overpowered the Liberty County defense. Davis finished with 191 rushing yards on 23 carries, and Richter complemented that effort with 111 yards on 10 rushes.
Richter’s sprint off the right side of the line resulted in a 66-yard gain and set up Ramello Zaccarro’s 1-yard touchdown run on the next play to give PSJ a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the second half.
After PSJ’s defense forced a punt with its third of five sacks against Watson, the Tiger Sharks boosted their lead to 13-0 with Davis’ 34-yard touchdown run with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter.
The teams then traded a trio of turnovers on three straight plays, the last of which was Zaccarro’s interception of Watson at the Tiger Sharks’ 10. On the second play of the next possession, Davis tip-toed along the sideline in front of the Liberty County bench en route to an 87-yard touchdown run and a 19-0 advantage.
The Tiger Sharks’ defensive front pestered Watson throughout the game and forced him into a 9-for-21 passing performance with 141 yards and an interception. Bulldog receiver Michael Robinson hauled down five catches for 78 yards, and he also added a pair of interceptions on defense.
Marlowe, who played as hard as anyone on the Bulldogs’ senior night, nearly reached the 100-yard plateau running the ball and settled with 93 yards on 15 carries.
- Port St. Joe 0 0 19 0 6 — 25
- Liberty County0 0 0 19 7 — 26
- PSJ: Zaccarro 1 run (Hites kick)
- PSJ: Davis 34 run (kick failed)
- PSJ: Davis 87 run (pass failed)
- LC: Watson 3 run (kick failed)
- LC: Beckwith 8 pass from Watson (Espinoza kick)
- LC: Marlowe 60 interception return (kick failed)
- PSJ: Williams 8 run (run failed)
- LC: Watson 5 run (Espinoza kick)
- INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
- RUSHING — PSJ: Davis 23-191, Richter 10-111, Lee 4-16, Zaccarro 5-9, Williams 1-8. LC: Marlowe 15-93, Beckwith 6-33, Jenkins 4-14, Armstrong 2-10, Chaney 1-(minus-1), Watson 7-(minus-23).
- PASSING — PSJ: Williams 1-3-1 16, Davis 0-5-2 0. LC: Watson 9-21-1 141, Marlowe 0-1-0 0.
- RECEIVING — PSJ: Lee 1-16. LC: Robinson 5-78, Swier 1-32, Beckwith 2-21, Marlowe 1-10.