Friday, Nov. 21, 2014 | 11:45 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer break down the Division 1A championship game, Basic's back-to-back upsets and Arbor View's chances against Bishop Gorman.
As players started heading back to the locker room, the Liberty High football team’s coaching staff gathered for a celebratory photo. They each raised one hand in the air, playfully waving five fingers to signal the Patriots’ fifth straight Sunrise Regional championship.
The Patriots beat visiting Basic High 28-16 Friday for the title, partially because of adjustments coaches made at halftime.
In the first half, Liberty managed just one touchdown — with 78 seconds left in the half — because the Basic defense dominated the line of scrimmage in controlling the Patriots’ run game.
That all changed in the second half. And on one play.
On the first play of the second half, Liberty senior running back Spencer Wilson broke free for a 90-yard touchdown run to snap a 7-7 halftime tie and give the Patriots the lead for good. On Liberty’s next possession, the run game again produced big yardage before Wilson broke loose for a 28-yard touchdown and 21-7 lead.
A back-and-forth game quickly turned into a double-digit Liberty lead.
“We talked at halftime and I kind of challenged the kids and their toughness," Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “I felt Basic was stoning us on the offensive line. We had to come out and make a statement.”
Nothing has been easy this season for Liberty, but in a true testament of its Sunrise dominance, the Patriots found ways to continue their streak of championships.
They experienced the growing pains of freshman quarterback Kenyon Oblad, who has only scratched the surface with his potential, suffered through injuries to multiple key performers and lost to a Sunrise opponent for the first time in more than 40 games.
But, just like past seasons, it’s the Patriots who are the last team standing and representing the Sunrise in the state playoffs.
“We put a plan in place in the offseason and try to get the kids to buy in and do all the weight-lifting and the conditioning,” Muraco said. “That is one of the things that has really turned the program around is the kids buying in and believing. Believing in the system and the coaches. This is a great win for us. We said we wanted to make history. We said we wanted to get five.”
This won’t be the last time you hear from the Patriots. They are built to last.
Freshman Jake Dedeaux closed the scoring with an interception return for a touchdown, teaming with older brother sophomore Ethan Dedeaux to give Liberty a potent one-two punch in the secondary. Two-way starter Bryan Roland, who caught a 21-yard touchdown from Oblad in the first half, is just a junior.
In a few seasons, they could be just like senior defensive lineman Josh Bernard-Lee. The postgame festivities were nothing new for Bernard-Lee, a four-year varsity player and four-time regional champion. Not many players can say they’ve been a key contributor on four championship teams.
“In the beginning of the season we had a lot of injuries, but we were able to maintain our focus,” Bernard-Lee said. “We were able to do our job and have some fun tonight.”
Liberty advances to face five-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman at 1 p.m. next Saturday at Rancho in the state semifinals. Undefeated Gorman, the nation’s No. 1 ranked team, beat Arbor View today for the Sunset championship.
Gorman beat Liberty in the 2011 state semifinals and the following year in the state championship game.
“To have a chance against Bishop Gorman we have to play a lot better than we did tonight,” Muraco said. “We cannot afford to have turnovers, or mistakes or mental breakdown. That is the challenge when you play them. They are so well coached, they are so athletic that if you make mistakes, they will capitalize on them.”
As for Basic, the Wolves also have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future. Despite being the No. 4 seed in the regional, they won a pair of road games in advancing to the regional finals for the third time in school history.
“They just play hard, man,” Basic coach Jeff Cahill said. “I told them in the locker room, ‘The team in '89, '09 and you are the teams who made it the Sunrise (championship game).’ We didn’t have the best players. We didn’t have the biggest players. But we have the teams with the most heart.”
Junior quarterback Aeneas McAllister has improved each week and should be the Sunrise Region’s top signal caller next year. His short touchdown run in the second quarter gave upset-minded Basic a 7-0 lead.
Defensively, Basic started as many as nine underclassmen, giving them plenty to build on. They lost 42-12 to Liberty in August, but improved so drastically they nearly dethroned the Sunrise champion.
“They played toe-to-toe with Liberty. They just couldn’t make enough plays at the end,” Cahill said.