Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019 | 12:35 a.m.
Liberty football knew what it was signing up for when it agreed to host Chandler (Ariz.), a powerhouse to the south. Liberty knows if it is to go where it wants to go, it’s going to need to beat the best in the country.
Naturally, Liberty knew when it scheduled the game it’s far from a guaranteed win. The Patriots hung with Chandler until the end Friday, but came up short at home in a 31-17 defeat.
“I told the kids that one of the reasons we take these kinds of games is that I want the adversity, I want the kids to be put in uncomfortable situations,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said.
There were times Friday that Liberty looked like it could not only hang with but handle some of the best competition in the country. Liberty stalled Chandler’s first two drives, and in the first quarter won the battle in the trenches, holding the Wolves to 22 rushing yards.
But Chandler finished last season as the No. 21 team in the country, according to MaxPreps, and eventually it showed why. Dae Dae Hunter snapped off a 45-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, one of two scores he had on the night, and Liberty had trouble keeping up.
There were also the self-inflicted wounds. The Patriots committed six personal fouls on the night, the most egregious of which came as time expired in the first half. Liberty was too rough with the Chandler quarterback, and the Wolves essentially grabbed three free points off the field goal on the untimed down.
“Lack of discipline on our part,” Muraco said. “We’ll address that.”
Chandler never ran away with it. The Wolves’ halftime lead was just 17-10, and a Germie Bernard interception to start the third set up a Zyrus Fiaseu touchdown to tie the game four minutes into the half. That, though, was the last time Liberty scored.
On Chandler’s ensuing drive, Liberty stopped the Wolves at the 2-yard line, and for the second time in the game, Chandler converted a fourth-down into a touchdown. They were 3-for-3 on the night on fourth down, all of them ending in touchdowns.
“We have to learn from adversity,” said Bernard, who also finished with a team-high 102 receiving yards. “We came out the second half and played hard, we just came up short.”
Liberty turned the ball over four times, fumbling it away thrice, ending otherwise successful drives. The Patriots never established a run game — they had only 66 rushing yards as a team — but quarterback Kanyon Stoneking looked poised. He finished 29 of 43 for 301 yards and a touchdown.
But a loss like this won’t spoil Liberty’s season. The Patriots head to Hawaii next week for a matchup with Mililani before meeting California powers St. John Bosco and Centennial. They finish their national schedule with a game against Liberty (Ariz.) on Sept. 20 before league play begins.
Then, of course, to win a state title they will have to go through Bishop Gorman.
“Instead of trying to take easy games and masking some mistakes you can get away with against a lesser opponent, you play against a top team like Chandler, those mistakes are going to impact the game more,” Muraco said. “I’m happy pretty much with how we played today.”