BECKLEY — Herbert Hoover moved the ball smartly all night, but when the Huskies lost their grip, they almost lost all hope of winning. Almost.
Nick Grayam threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Devin Hatfield with 2:01 left in the fourth quarter Friday night, rallying Hoover to a 34-33 victory against previously unbeaten Liberty Raleigh in a Class AA first-round game at Woodrow Wilson.
The win sends the No. 13 seed Huskies (6-2) into next weekend’s quarterfinals at either Oak Glen or Point Pleasant. Those teams play Saturday at Oak Glen.
Hoover prevailed despite turning the ball over six times — three on lost fumbles and throwing three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns by the Raiders in the first quarter, including a 100-yard runback by Logan Dodrill.
Huskies coach Joey Fields was asked about the last time one of his teams won despite committing six turnovers.
“Never,’’ Fields said. “What’s crazy is we had five turnovers against the No. 1 team in the state [Sissonville] and we were seven points from winning that game. We’re nine points from being undefeated. We’re a good football team.
“The thing I keep saying is they respond and they’re resilient. They’ve been through a lot off the field, so when things happen on the field, they’re just [saying], ‘Next play, next play.’ They respond. I’m so happy for my guys. We did everything we could to give it away to them. We told them we’re the better football team, and the better football team’s going to win in the second half.’’
Hoover trailed 27-10 at one point in the second quarter and was still down 27-17 at halftime, having turned it over on four straight possessions at one stage. Even though they lost two fumbles in the second half, the Huskies started stringing together chunk plays.
Grayam, who threw for 265 yards and three TDs and ran for another score, shaved Hoover’s deficit to 33-27 on a 2-yard TD run with 10:50 left in the game.
The Huskies started the winning drive at their own 34 with 5:08 left after Liberty quarterback Isaac Atkins fumbled following a 20-yard gain. The ball was recovered by Trey Chapman, who had two fumble recoveries and two sacks in the second half for Hoover.
Hoover faced third and 9 from the Liberty 10 a few moments later and Grayam threw a dart in the end zone to Hatfield. It was the seventh and final reception for Hatfield, who had 135 yards and two TDs receiving and two kickoff returns for 63 yards.
Liberty only made it out to its own 40 on its final possession. Hoover’s Joseph Hanson intercepted a pass with 52 seconds left to ice it.
“Those turnovers in the fourth quarter got us on our heels a little bit,’’ said Raiders coach Mark Workman. “They’re a tough team, man. They’ve got some good receivers and they can run routes. We were in a pickle playing cover zero, cover one. They just kind of took over in the fourth quarter and you’re danged if you do, danged if you don’t.
“You let them torch you throwing the ball and try to stop that and they start getting a little bit on the ground. It boils down to not taking care of the football.’’
For the longest time, it seemed like it would mark the first-ever playoff win for Liberty’s football program, which is now 0-10 in first-round games.
At one point in the second quarter, Hoover had run 30 plays to Liberty’s nine, but trailed 19-7 virtue of two interception returns for touchdowns 2:21 apart — first a 42-yarder by Ryan Simms and then the 100-yarder by Dodrill. By halftime, Liberty led 27-17 but had gained only 100 yards on offense.
“We came in [at halftime],’’ Fields said, “and told them, Hey, this is what we’ve got to clean up, this is what we’ve got to do, and just move on to the next play.’ We were very fortunate to be down only 10 the way we played.’’
Hoover kicker Levi Paxton also helped his team stay afloat by cashing in on 36- and 29-yard field goal tries after the Huskies fell behind 19-7 after one quarter. He also booted the crucial extra point after Hatfield’s final TD.
Hunter Bartley carried 17 times for 92 yards for Hoover and Jacob Burns caught six passes for 119 yards. Atkins ran 17 times for 94 yards for Liberty.