STEPHEN SYLVANIE / SPECIAL TO THE SUN
Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014 | 2:08 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer look over a surprising remaining playoff bracket before weighing in with their picks.
The only thing that spoke louder than the groans coming from the Liberty bench was the momentary silence in the visitors’ stands.
The entire Liberty side turned incredulous late in Friday night’s Sunrise semifinal game at Coronado. The Patriots had never trailed in the fourth quarter, but they had never felt comfortable either.
They endured adversity including but not limited to giving up two late touchdowns to the Cougars and having to recover back-to-back onside kicks because of an inadvertent whistle. And then when finally all they needed to do was run out the clock, Patriots running back Ethan Tuilagi fumbled the ball back to Coronado in their own territory with a minute and a half to go.
“I just felt almost like they were destined to win or something with the way it was falling apart there,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said.
The madness finally ended when Liberty forced Coronado into a fourth-and-9 play from the 28-yard line after the turnover. Cougars junior quarterback Spencer Cofer lofted a pass to where it looked like his receiver could catch it, but Patriots freshman defensive back Jake Dedeaux pogoed his way to knock the ball down first.
Liberty 33, Coronado 27.
“I was just thinking, ‘what the heck is going on,’” senior running back Spencer Wilson said of the crazy fourth quarter. “But our team got past that.”
The victory didn’t produce a game film that anyone will be eager to revisit for a while, but the Patriots showed their character. They were able to overcome every mistake, both unfortunate and self-inflicted, that presented itself.
The perseverance ultimately landed Liberty a chance for a fifth straight Sunrise region championship with a home game against Basic next week and bragging rights with a ninth consecutive win over “Rose Bowl” rivals Coronado.
“Everyone was on their toes the whole time,” Wilson said. “It wasn’t like we ever had it; we never really had it. But I had no doubt in our team. We just had to keep pushing through.”
Wilson broke the game’s only tie. It was knotted 13-13 at halftime with Liberty relying on its offensive variety.
Sophomore receiver Ethan Dedeaux had given the Patriots a 7-6 lead when he caught a 64-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Kenyon Oblad. Ethan Dedeaux came in later in the first quarter to run Wildcat packages, and added a rushing touchdown.
But Coronado had kept pace with Nick Trejo scoring the game’s opening touchdown on an 8-yard run following a Wilson fumble forced and recovered by senior linebacker Kainoa Granstrom.
Fellow senior linebacker Justin Belknap set up the Cougars’ other touchdown when he picked off an Oblad pass deep in Liberty’s territory with junior running back Jordan Patterson rushing in the eventual seven-yard score.
Hoping to cut down on the miscues, Muraco decided to go more physical in the second half with a game plan featuring Wilson, who finished with 16 carries for 97 yards, and Tuilagi, 13 carries for 88 yards. It worked immediately.
Tuilagi gained more than 40 yards on the first drive out of halftime before Wilson powered in a 10-yard touchdown.
“I love that we can do that,” Ethan Dedeaux said. “It’s fun. We can run out of Wildcat and then switch the whole game up and go ground-and-pound.”
It continued rewarding the Patriots. With a secondary starring senior Curtis Washington — who had an interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery — along with the Dedeaux brothers, the Liberty defense limited Coronado’s passing game and got the offense the ball back quickly.
The Patriots had two more long drives that finished with 28- and 30-yard field goals from junior kicker Matt Blumberg.
“I hadn’t really had a lot of confidence in the kicking game,” Muraco said. “Even in practice, we struggled making it but I give Matthew credit. He was clutch and came through when we needed him most.”
Blumberg’s second kick split the uprights with 6:47 left in the game, which is approximately when everything turned wild. Coronado scored 30 seconds later on a reverse-pass from senior receiver Tanner Gorski to senior receiver Michael Simpson.
The teams traded touchdowns — a 1-yard touchdown run from Calvin Tubbs for Liberty and a 7-yard pass from Cofer to Richard Scow for Coronado — as rapidly as they did personal foul penalties. The combined total penalties for the two teams was 30 for 377 yards.
“That’s our rivals so we did well out there,” Ethan Dedeaux said. “But we’ve got a lot of fixes to do.”
The Patriots are just happy they’ll have the opportunity to fix them. Ethan Dedeaux can’t get over his younger brother ensuring as much with the pass break-up that ended the game.
He was defending on the other side of the field, but sprinted over to Jake Dedeaux so quickly that he almost arrived to celebrate before the ball hit the ground.
“That was emotional for me,” Ethan Dedeaux said. “Growing up, he was always littler and playing on the younger teams. Now he comes out here, and bats the pass down to go to the league championship.”