It wasn't pretty but Sierra's football team will gladly take this win.
And the Stallions did so by lifting their helmets to the sky and giving each other big hugs as if this was a playoff game. That's because it could have gone the other way.
Sierra coach Draye Ersery illustrated that point in his postgame speech.
"You guys nearly gave me a heart attack," he said.
In the end, the Stallions got a 32-20 win over Liberty in a season opener Thursday night at District 20 Stadium, highlighted by a stellar performance from junior running back/linebacker Elijah Smith. He finished with 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
The Stallions went up 20-0 in the first quarter, thanks to Smith returning a fumble for a 51-yard touchdown before Isaiah Wilburn took over. He caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Tobias Tuatoo and returned an interception from midfield for a score, all in a span of about a minute.
But the game changed when Tuatoo took a hit on a quarterback keeper in the second. He lay on the field for several minutes before he was taken off the field and never returned. His status is unknown.
That set up a Liberty rally.
It started with a short pass from Daucin Dvorsky to Mussa Pene to cut the Sierra lead to 20-7. Then, with senior Connor Burgess filling in for an injured Tuatoo, Pene intercepted a Burgess pass at midfield for a touchdown and a Liberty deficit of just 20-13 late in the second.
By halftime, both teams showed some first-game jitters. They combined for five turnovers, 15 penalties and three missed point-after-touchdown attempts.
There were more turnovers, more penalties and more missed PATs to end the game.
Both teams didn't score again until the fourth, when Smith ran in an 80-yard score and Connor Burgess threw a 22-yard TD to Tristan Burgess to put the Stallions' lead at 32-13 with about 5 minutes left.
On the ensuing drive, Dvorsky got his second TD pass on a 55-yarder to Aydrese Hickman. But that wasn't enough, as the Stallions ran out the clock to earn a not-so-pretty win.


Chhun Sun is a sports reporter with an emphasis in preps. He joined The Gazette in April 2015 and covered public safety for three years before joining @gazettepreps staff. The Thailand-born Cambodian-American has been in journalism for nearly two decades.

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