Rich Wellbrock's Desert Edge team had done nearly everything he asked, shutting down Liberty's big-play offense, winning the time of possession battle and making big plays when needed.
Yet the Scorpions couldn't celebrate until six seconds remained in the game. That's when Liberty senior kicker Conner McRae's 33-yard field goal banged off the bottom of the crossbar and back onto the field.
Desert Edge (8-2, 4-0) ran out the clock, securing a 14-11 victory over Liberty (9-1, 3-1), claiming its first (and last) Skyline Region title and touching off a wild celebration.
"It was nerve-wracking, but I think our kids still stepped up and made plays when they had to," Wellbrock said. "We had a couple chances to stop the drive. Both teams played their tails off and it came down to we were on the right side."
Twice in the second half, the Scorpions had an opportunity to put the game away, but both times Desert Edge players fumbled after picking up huge first downs.
The first turnover denied the home team points off its most impressive drive of the night. Desert Edge started the second half with a 14-3 lead and the ball at its 10 yard line. They drove 83 yards in 15 plays and took eight minutes off the clock with some tough running, timely passing and plenty of help from the Lions.
"We beat ourselves throughout the game," Liberty coach Dan Filleman said. "We can't have the penalties and dropping the ball. We drove the ball all night, and shot ourselves in the foot."
A defensive offsides penalty gave the Scorpions a first down, and a late hit on senior quarterback Tanner Lung erased a third-down stop by Liberty.
A third penalty, this one a personal foul on the Lions, turned an incomplete fourth-down pass into a Desert Edge first down at the 20. On the ensuing third down play, senior tailback Danell Miles picked up a first down, but had the ball knocked out.
Liberty fell on it at the 4, and set out to make the Scorpions pay. On the next play, junior quarterback Andre Gattie kept the ball on a read option play, shook two tackles and dashed 96 yards for an apparent score.
But again a penalty killed the Lions' momentum. A sideline infraction - players were over the white boundary line, but not on the field - brought the ball most of the way back.
Gattie was given credit for 32 yards and a first down on the run. Once the penalty was marked off, Liberty restarted the drive at its 31. The Lions picked up two first downs, but were forced to punt at the start of the fourth quarter
"There was a sideline penalty and a block in the back," Filleman said.
The big run that wasn't turned out to be Gattie's only explosive play on the night. Against a defense keying on him, the dual-threat could muster only 44 yards on 17 carries and 53 passing yards on seven completions.
It was Desert Edge's plan coming in, and a big reason the Scorpions held a team averaging 43 points per game to 11.
"He's a pretty good football player. He's going to get his," Wellbrock said. "But I think we limited the amount that he got, and I think we eliminated their big plays. That's the key. They're an explosive team that's had big plays all year long."
Much like in the third quarter, Desert Edge moved the ball and bled the clock to open the fourth. Senior tailback Manny James broke free on a 42-yard run. Sophomore Kyle Woolard followed with a 12-yard run.
Two plays later, Lung found junior receiver Anthony Fletcher for first-down yardage, but the Lions forced another fumble. Sophomore free safety Cody Gawlitta returned the ball to the 42.
As they have in three previous games, the Lions threw a change up. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Rogers, more of a dropback passer than Gattie, stepped in and Gattie lined up at wide receiver.
The switch worked. Rogers and junior tailback Ryan Benedict combined for five straight read option plays. Then on third down, Rogers dropped back and hit junior wide receiver Paul Panaccione on a post route for a 35-yard touchdown.
Gattie came back in for the two-point conversion, rolled out and connected with Panaccione. Just under seven minutes remained in the game.
"Tyler is a good passer and we needed to throw the ball a little bit," Filleman said. "It was a good adjustment. Going to him earlier ... we had all our plays there, we just didn't execute."
Desert Edge nursed its three-point advantage, earning a first down and running the clock to 3:30 before punting.
Rogers remained in the game as Liberty started at its 12. With 1:14 left, the Lions faced third and five at the Desert Edge 42.
Panaccione went in motion and took a toss from Rogers, catching the Scorpions off guard. Panaccione nearly broke free, but was tackled after picking up 20 yards.
Desert Edge stopped Liberty at the 16, setting up the final field goal.
McRae's other miss, early in the second quarter, was more debatable. The officials under the goalposts conferred with each other before deciding the 32-yard attempt was wide left.
In the first quarter, McRae opened the scoring with a 38-yard kick set up by a successful fake punt. Those were Liberty's lone first half highlights, as Desert Edge's speed and sloppy execution short circuited the Lions attack.
Desert Edge struck near the end of the opening quarter, as Lung's deep post pass sailed inches over the hand of an outstretched defender and into the arms of senior receiver Shane Simmons, who raced in to complete the 54-yard touchdown.
Then just before halftime Lung converted a third down on a 12-yard scramble , stepping out just before he reaches across the goal line. The Scorpions quickly lined up and Lung burrowed in to increase the lead to 14-3.
"Simmons stepped up, Fletcher stepped up," Wellbrock said. "The guys that needed to stepped up for us to move the chains and control the ball - that's not exactly what Liberty wanted."
Desert Edge entered the game at No. 8 in the 4A-II power points. Even if the Scorpions don't move up, they've served notice to the rest of the division.
Liberty was No. 3 before Friday, and may have fallen as far as No. 5 after the loss. Regardless of their matchup, Filleman said he wants the team to learn from this game.
"I'd rather do it now than next week," he said. "Maybe if we come out and get a fire under our butt, it's a good loss. That's the hope."