Bodies were strewn everywhere in front of the goal line.
Then, out of a pile emerged Issaquah middle linebacker Nik Landdeck, hoisting a football over his head. The senior glanced at the referee, watched him point in the direction of the Eagles, and sprinted to midfield where he was swarmed by teammates, coaches and the Issaquah student body.
“I saw the ball just sitting out there vulnerable, stripped it, saw it squirt out right before the goal line — game over,” said Landdeck, standing in the same spot he recovered a fumble moments earlier to secure a 27-21 double-overtime victory over Liberty.
The game-clinching defensive play came just seconds after Patriot quarterback Trey Wheeler completed an 11-yard pass to Anthony Lemmon, setting up a first and goal at the Eagle’s 3-yard line.
A Liberty touchdown, coupled with an extra point, would have sealed the win for the Patriots.
Momentum turned on the very next play, however.
As he tried to push forward for extra yardage, Liberty running back Chandler Jenkins coughed the ball up at the 1-yard line — much to the dismay of a confused Patriot coaching staff.
“I didn’t see it,” head coach Steve Valach said. “It’s hard when it kind of feels like a judgement that ends the game. But you know what, we might watch film and say that wasn’t a judgement call, that was absolutely a crystal clear call.”
Landdeck, who is known for his big-hit abilities, simply did what he knows how to do best.
“I just saw the stretch and the toss outside, I saw him come back in and I filled the hole,” he said.
Issaquah quarterback Ethan Kalin admitted he had to turn his back as Liberty marched down the field in the second overtime. When he saw the fans erupt as the result of Landdeck’s play, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“That was a huge play, that was a Division I linebacker play right there,” Kalin said.
Issaquah took the lead on the first drive of the second overtime when Kalin marched the Eagles 25 yards in three plays, capped by a 6-yard Taylor Wyman run for a TD.
Wyman, who’s also the kicker, missed the PAT left, however, leaving Issaquah with a six-point advantage.
Kalin ended the first overtime period with another three-play scoring drive, connecting with Wyman on a 25-yard screen pass for a TD, tying the game at 21-21.
Liberty started the overtime off with a 17-yard TD pass from Wheeler to Scott Dean.
The Patriots forced the overtime on some last-minute heroics from Wheeler. After Issaquah botched a snap on a field goal attempt with just under 1:30 left in the game, the Liberty senior immediately countered. On the second play from scrimmage, he escaped multiple Eagle defenders, broke right, before coming back left and finding sophomore receiver Tynan Gilmore down the sideline for a 56-yard TD. Prior to the touchdown, Wheeler had completed just six of 19 passes for a total 56 yards.
Issaquah broke a 7-7 halftime stalemate on its first drive of the second half after Kalin capped a 13-play drive off with an 11-yard TD to Evan Peterson.
Kalin ended the game completing 14 of 32 passes for 180 yards, with two TDs and two INTs. His largest plays, however, came running the ball. He had 15 carries for 110 yards, including a 3-yard rushing TD in the first quarter.
“They’re not used to a 230-pound quarterback running through a hole,” Kalin said. “I think it caught them way off guard, they’re weren’t expecting that.”
Liberty’s lone first-half score came on a 35-yard interception return from Jenkins.
The Patriots ended the game with 231 yards of total offense, but had just 52 in the first half. Issaquah, which improved to 2-0, had 336 total yards.
“We found a way to win and the kids never gave up,” Issaquah head coach Chris Bennett said. “I’m so proud of our kids because when you dominate a game, then all the sudden there’s a big momentum swing and you get down in overtime — they could have hung their heads but they kept battling and they kept fighting.”