Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014 | 1:44 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer transition into playoff mode and go over all of Friday's matchups.
If manifested into the form of a single human, the Liberty High football team would make for the prototypical sitcom character.
The Patriots often produce unnecessary adversity through self-destructive behavior, only to prove the reckless tendencies superfluous with ultimate heroics.
For the second straight week, Liberty fell behind by double digits in the first quarter of a big game. For the second straight week, the setback didn’t really add anything but early drama after the Patriots prevailed comfortably in the end.
Liberty advanced in its quest to win a fifth straight Sunrise region title, beating visiting Green Valley 28-14 in the first round of the playoffs.
“It seems like we never make it easy on ourselves,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said with a grin.
In their last two games combined, the Patriots have gotten shut out 28-0 in the first quarter. For the other six quarters in the two games, they’ve won 76-6.
Just when many assumed Liberty couldn’t start any worse than last week’s 17-0 hole at Las Vegas, it was arguably more bumbled in falling behind 11-0 against Green Valley.
The Gators scored in eight plays on the opening possession, the touchdown coming when senior quarterback Christian Lopez threw a 38-yard strike to junior receiver Brayon Williams on a 3rd-and-23 play. Green Valley had a trifecta of scoring methods five minutes later with a safety because a poor snap on a Liberty punt and a field goal on the ensuing drive out of the free-kick.
The Liberty offense looked more helpless than the defense. The Patriots had negative-29 yards through one quarter. Four of their six plays had ended in sacks for Green Valley, including a pair by senior lineman Cordell Tidwell.
“We came out and tried to run some spread,” Muraco detailed. “We got a little rattled early. They got pressure on the quarterback, so we went with something a little different and went double-tight, ground and pound.”
On the third play of the second quarter, freshman quarterback Kenyon Oblad faked a handoff and threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Noah Jefferson to cut Green Valley’s lead to 11-8.
Jefferson, a USC-committed defensive end, and his teammates also turned the defense around by getting more pressure on Lopez immediately. Both Jefferson and fellow starting defensive end Randy Bukassa notched two sacks on the night.
“Sacks equals stacks,” Jefferson said. “That’s all I really pay attention to. Getting touchdowns and getting the ball is nice. I just wanted to put the team on my back tonight and really just bring out the win.”
Liberty forced a turnover on downs on Green Valley’s drive following the touchdown. On the next play after the stop, Liberty senior running back Spencer Wilson broke loose for a 69-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the night.
The Patriots had wiped out the Gators’ early advantage in four second-quarter plays.
“I was just making sure it wasn’t my last senior game,” Wilson said. “I was pushing with everything I’ve got.”
Wilson had a game-high 148 rushing yards on nine carries. Not bad for someone who came into the season as a defensive back having never played running back.
Wilson volunteered to try the position early in the year when both senior Ethan Tuilagi, who had 10 carries for 83 yards Friday and junior Calvin Tubbs, six carries for 22 yards, went down with injures.
“Spencer kind of came out of nowhere,” Muraco said. “He just made the most of his opportunity. I like him because he’s a downfield runner yet he still has some elusiveness.”
Also elusive was the easy finish for Liberty once grabbing the lead. Green Valley began combating Liberty’s ground attack more efficiently, and got a break when another bad snap on a punt gave it the ball at the 4-yard line to start the fourth quarter.
Liberty, however, stuffed four straight plays at the goal line and made Green Valley opt for a 17-yard field goal from junior kicker Frank Canles.
“It shows the heart of our team,” Jefferson said. “Our linebackers and our defensive backs had it. I knew our defensive line had it, but I wanted to see if the rest of the team had it. All of us got onto the same page with the same mentality.”
Predictably, Liberty stepped up after putting itself in a vulnerable situation with the game tied at 14. Wilson broke a 47-yard run with nine minutes to go in the game, setting up a one-yard touchdown plunge from Oblad.
Lopez — who finished with 203 yards on 19-for-31 passing with one touchdown and one interception in the last game of his storied career — answered by bringing Green Valley down the field but Liberty stiffened on four straight plays around the 30-yard line to get the ball back.
Having been boom or bust on offense all night, Liberty had just four first downs when getting the ball back with six minutes to play. The Patriots more than doubled the total with five in a possession that highlighted Tuilagi to run the clock and secure the victory.
“We have a lot of rotations with our running backs, but we just try to keep eating,” Wilson said. “There’s so much competition, I think that’s why we run so hard.”
Jefferson caught his second touchdown pass with a minute to go in the game. He’s never fretted during either of the comebacks in the last two games, but hopes he can help his team get off to a cleaner start next week.
Liberty might need it against top-seeded Coronado after a razor-thin 14-13 victory in the rivalry earlier this year.
“I’m looking forward to it because we played so horribly the last time we played them,” Jefferson said. “I already know we’re coming back this game. I know my team wants it. I know my team thinks we played bad when we played them before. We didn’t play to our potential.”