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Canyon Springs eyes Liberty breakthrough

Liberty has ended Canyon Springs’ football season in four of the past five seasons.

The Pioneers hope to have more success in their first meeting as league foes.

Ninth-ranked Canyon Springs (3-1) plays at No. 2 Liberty (4-1) at 7 p.m. today in the Northeast League opener for both teams. It’s the first season the teams have been in the same league.

“It’s a team that’s been a thorn in our side for a long time,” Canyon Springs coach Hunkie Cooper said. “In the last three (meetings), we’ve lost by a total of 16 points. And there’s some things we could have done differently, some plays we could have made, some plays we shouldn’t have made.”

The Patriots have beaten the Pioneers six times since 2009. Four of those came in the Sunrise Region playoffs, including a 24-21 Liberty win in last year’s Sunrise semifinals.

But Cooper and the Pioneers haven’t been blown out in any of those six games. Liberty’s total margin of victory is 38 points, and all six have been decided by 13 points or fewer.

“All of the seniors, we know about our history with Liberty and how much we really want to go ahead and pull it off this year and actually get a victory,” Canyon Springs senior quarterback Bradley Alexander said. “Going into it, we all know what we want, and we all know how to get it.”

Cooper said the way to get that win is to avoid some of the mistakes of the past.

“Every game we’ve had an opportunity to be successful, and it’s hard to win when you get in your own way,” Cooper said. “That’s kind of been our nemesis.”

A year ago, Liberty used a high-powered offense to win its fourth consecutive Sunrise Region title. The Patriots averaged 39.9 points last season behind quarterback and Review-Journal state player of the year Tyler Newman, who has since graduated.

But the Patriots are doing it with defense this season. Liberty has scored just 33 points in its past three games, but the Patriots have allowed only 65 points this season, and that includes two kick returns for touchdowns and a defensive score.

Cooper said he’s confident his team has the offensive firepower to counter Liberty’s defense. Alexander has been efficient at quarterback, completing 53 percent of his passes for 539 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception. Zaviontay Stevenson has rushed for 495 yards and six TDs, giving the Pioneers balance.

“We’ve always moved the ball well, it’s just sustaining the drives, completing the drives, finishing the drives,” Cooper said. “If you have the ball for eight plays and 60 yards and you come up empty, that’s hurtful for you. Again, those self-inflicted wounds.

“Pressure makes people break, and I think we’re a different football team now.”

Defensive linemen Noah Jefferson (6 feet 6 inches, 285 pounds), John Groom (6-2, 280) and Josh Bernard-Lee (5-11, 270) lead the Patriots on defense and provide plenty of size up front. Jefferson has committed to Southern California and also plays tight end.

The offensive line is even bigger, averaging more than 300 pounds.

“In football, you have to control the line of scrimmage, and that’s where they’ve been really good,” Cooper said. “They’re really huge up front. They protect the quarterback well, and they also rush the passer well. And those are two things that impact a football game.”

Contact reporter Damon Seiters at dseiters@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4587. Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSeiters.

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