TROY, Mo. — What may have seemed like a long time coming became inevitable Saturday. Liberty North advanced to its first state championship game in school history.
The Eagles bounced back after giving up a touchdown on the first possession of the game to score 28 unanswered points on the way to a 35-21 victory in the contest played before an overflow crowd estimated at 3,600 in Lincoln County.
The Eagles (11-1), who won their 11th in a row, will face CBC (12-1) in the state championship game at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Faurot Field in Columbia.
Troy completed the most successful campaign in school history with a 10-3 mark. The Cinderella run looked like it would continue after the first series on Saturday.
Sutton gave the wild, enthusiastic crowd reason to go crazy by engineering a nifty 10-play, 80-yard march after the opening kickoff sailed into the end zone. Junior running back Nick Bova capped off the drive with a 35-yard touchdown scamper around the right side.
Liberty North responded with a march of its own that led to a 28-yard field goal by junior Blake Craig. Junior quarterback Sam Van Dyne then put his team in front to stay on the Eagles' next possession with a 43-yard scoring strike to sophomore Freddie Lavan that resulted in a 10-7 lead.
"These kids don't quit, they play their rear ends off down after down," Liberty North coach Greg Jones said. "That's who we are."
The Eagles added a 40-yard field goal by Craig to stretch the lead to 13-7 late in the second half before the Kansas City-area school broke the game open on a special teams play in the final minute of the quarter.
Junior Kaden Durso broke free to block a Troy punt and Melvin Laster pounced on the loose ball at the Trojans' 8-yard-line. Two plays later, Cayden Arzola bowled over from 5 yards out to push the lead to 21-7 with just 53 seconds left in the half.
"We had a good plan, felt good about it," Nesbitt said. "But (Liberty North) has good football players. They're here for a reason."
"That hurt," Nesbitt said. "(13-7) compared to 20-7, it's a big difference."
Arzola ran in from eight yards out midway through the third quarter to push the lead to three scores.
"We were just able to play our version of football," said Van Dyne, an NCAA D-I prospect, who hit on 16-of-21 passes for 264 yards. "Our defense does its job and we just try our best to put as many points on the board as possible."
Troy never got closer than to within two touchdowns the rest of the way. Sutton hit Nathan Ryan on a 31-yard scoring toss to trim the deficit to 28-14 early in the final period.