A strong second half propelled Peoria Liberty to a 24-20 win over Ironwood Ridge on Friday night.
Beating a ranked Division II team in the season opener was enough for Liberty Coach Dan Filleman. But the Lions' method of victory was even more encouraging.
Liberty, a program known for shootouts against evenly matched opponents came up with several key stops. With its big-play passing game sputtering, Liberty preserved a four-point lead by running out the final 4:13 with senior tailback Jake Schuiteboer and a retooled offensive line.
"We've got to be able to grind out games. In the past we had to score, score, score," Filleman said. "We put some focus on not being that way. Obviously, we want to score but we've got to be able to grind it out as well."
The Nighthawks were held scoreless in the second half.
"There was probably four plays where we were almost there. So we've got to drill it and get better," Ironwood Ride Head Coach Matt Johnson said.
Both teams are in the thick of a Division II title race that lacks a front runner. Liberty was ranked No. 3 in West Valley Preps' preseason poll, while Ironwood Ridge started No. 6.
Both coaches said afterward that their teams can only benefit from starting off with a stern test.
"Liberty's a very good program. I thought our kids put out a good effort," Johnson said. "I think both teams have a bright future ahead of them. It's great when you play a high quality opponent to start off. You're so much better for the rest of the season."
For a detailed re-cap see Richard Smith’s story for WEST VALLEY PREPS.