Lakewood’s Jared Taylor avoids a Liberty defender during a 2A playoff game on Friday in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Lakewood’s Jared Taylor avoids a Liberty defender during a 2A playoff game on Friday in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Lakewood tops Liberty to reach state for 1st time since 2012

A key interception by sophomore linebacker Andrew Molloy helps the Cougars earn a 14-10 Week 10 win.

ARLINGTON — Lakewood sophomore linebacker Andrew Molloy doesn’t wear gloves, even on cold Friday nights in November. That’s not his style. In fact, he doesn’t wear any accessories at all.

Molloy lets his play on the field stand on its own.

With the Patriots knocking on the door late in the fourth quarter of a tight 2A Week 10 playoff game, Molloy’s interception with 2:30 remaining was the big play the Cougars needed to hang on and knock off Liberty, 14-10, at Lakewood High School.

The win sent the Cougars (8-1) to state for the first time since 2012.

“What a big play for a sophomore to make and punch our ticket,” Lakewood coach Dan Teeter said.

With the ball at Lakewood’s 21-yard line, Liberty quarterback Samuel Brown threw a dart into double coverage in an attempt to score the go-ahead touchdown for the Patriots, but Lakewood’s Shae Dixon was able to deflect the football up in the air. Molloy found the ball and stretched out for a diving interception that slid him into the end zone on the dewy turf.

“I didn’t realize I did it afterwards,” Molloy said. “It just kind of happened. I didn’t think about it at all.”

It was just the spark the Cougars needed.

Lakewood thought they were about to shift into chew-some-clock mode after Liberty’s double-reverse pass on fourth-and-2 from midfield fell incomplete, but a roughing-the-passer penalty was called to extend the Patriots’ drive.

“We work on situations every week in practice and we talk about sometimes there’s going to be a call, good or bad — and it may have been the right call, I don’t know, I didn’t see it happen, but you have to respond back because the next play is the most important,” Teeter said. “I was really proud of how they responded.”

After Molloy’s interception, Lakewood was able to run four more plays before punting, leaving about 1:30 on the clock and 47 yards to go for Liberty’s offense, but the Cougars stopped Patriots wide receiver Marquel Aguila two yards short on a fourth-and-5 attempt to clinch the game.

“I love the way they battled,” Teeter said. “They just fought and it came right down until the end.”

Liberty struck first on its opening drive as Connor Davis’ field goal was good from 38 yards out with 7:20 remaining in the first.

Lakewood pulled ahead late in the opening quarter, as the Cougars capped a seven-play, 53-yard drive with junior quarterback Jared Taylor’s 2-yard touchdown run.

In the second half, Liberty chewed up nearly eight minutes of clock while gaining 48 yards in 13 plays, as Hunter Honn punched it in from the 1-yard line to pull the Patriots ahead 10-7 with 1:49 remaining in the third quarter.

But the Cougars responded swiftly, as Lakewood scored on Landen Pruitt’s 7-yard touchdown run with 9:07 remaining to take the lead back once and for all.

KEY PERFORMERS

— Taylor finished with 101 yards on the ground and a touchdown to go along with 74 yards passing.

— Liberty quarterback Brown rushed for 64 yards on 24 carries to lead the Patriots.

QUOTABLE

“He’s going to be a really, really good player for the next couple years. He’s contributing right away.” — Teeter on Molloy.

NEXT UP

Lakewood (8-1) will play a round of 16 2A state playoff game, with opponent and location to be determined, pending seeding. Liberty’s season ends with a 7-3 record.

“I’m just so excited for the guys,” Teeter said. “We drew a top 10 team in the (winner)-to-state game, which I was a little bit nervous about. I just wanted these guys to have the opportunity to go to state, so I’m really happy for the guys.”

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