The outcome was not what Poston Butte coach Mike De La Torre had hoped.
Though his No. 15 Broncos, who finished at 7-4, lost their first-ever post season game to No. 2 Peoria Liberty 20-3 on a rainy, wind-swept night, losing was a minor consequence to De La Torre. Instead, he wanted to talk about pride in his three year program, and the bar now established by an accomplished set of seniors.
With a six game winning to start the season, the Broncos represented the quiet hope of many, and, in the end, they almost pulled off a miracle. Down 7-3 early in the final period, quarterback Dean Martino's fourth down pass from the Liberty 13 yard line went incomplete, as did the dreams of the program this year.
"I can't say enough about the play of our seniors, and they have helped to establish our program," De La Torre said. "It was a long, crazy season for us. Overall, this was an important learning experience for everyone, and a growing experience for those coming back."
Combating a wicked wind, slashing rain and bruising Liberty defense, Martino's play kept the Broncos in the contest. The 6-1 junior went 11-35 for 107 yards against brutal conditions. In the end, Martino's effort nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets this playoff season. His 35 passes was not the wish of the coaching staff, but he way he engineered significant drives was noticeable.
"We were looking for certain match-ups, and hoped to take advantage," De La Torre added. "We were not hitting a high percentage of passes, so that approach did not work in our favor."
The Broncos fell behind at 7-0 but responded on the final play of the second quarter. That's when senior Alex Peterson kicked a 30 yard field goal as time expired. That placed Poston Butte clearly within striking of taking the lead.
That nearly happened early in the final period, but Martino's pass on that fourth play went incomplete. From there, Liberty scored twice to ice this one.
First, running back Ryan Benedict capped an 8-play, 82 yard drive with a 16-yard dash into the Broncos end zone with 8:43 reaming in the game. Then, Lions' defensive back Chad Bennett interception Martino's throw deep in Liberty territory and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown for the final score with 3:45 left in the game.
"Bend, but don't break seemed to be our defense," Liberty coach Dan Filleman said. "Weather-wise, it was a bad night and the defense stepped up. In the end, I thought it was an ugly game, but we played well enough to move to the next round."
While Martino's air show tried to keep the Broncos alive, the running was aided with contributions from senior Tony Hatfield, who led the ground game with 40 yards on 10 carries. Junior Dustin French added 39 yards on 11 carries, while Martino chipped in 33 net yards on 12 carries.
Senior Matt Emineth led the Lions ground game with 71 yards on nine carries. Benedict, a senior, added 56 yards on seven carries, while junior Kyle Harms picked up 41 yards on seven carries.