Liberty High’s football team already had proven itself as one of the best in the state long before taking the field Friday, but the second-ranked Patriots still had a final regular-season point to make.
One more win would give them a fifth league championship in the last six seasons, and they got it. Marquell James rushed nine times for 78 yards and three touchdowns to lead Liberty to a 54-14 victory over visiting Las Vegas.
The Patriots (8-1, 4-0 Northeast) will enter the postseason as the Northeast League’s top seed.
Liberty coach Rich Muraco said the win was more than symbolic.
“It absolutely means something,” he said. “We want to have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. We’ve preached how important that is.”
Liberty’s dominance never was in doubt as James capped a 10-play first possession by breaking several tackles for a 15-yard touchdown run to put the Patriots up 6-0 with 7:54 left in the first quarter. He scored on a 5-yard run with 1:16 to go in the quarter to make it 12-0.
Liberty quarterback Kenyon Oblad found a rhythm in the second quarter, hitting Bryan Roland and Ethan Dedeaux with TD passes of 24 and 31 yards, respectively, to give his team a 26-0 halftime lead.
“Our offense is really starting to come together,” Muraco said. “We’re running the ball, throwing the ball, making it difficult for the other team to stop us.”
The Patriots, meanwhile, held the Wildcats to 80 yards of first-half offense.
“The defense has been playing great,” Muraco said. “They’re flying to the ball and being very aggressive.”
Liberty tacked on a 3-yard TD by Stephon Stowers in the third quarter before things got wild in the fourth.
Both teams put up big offensive numbers in the final quarter. Liberty scored on runs by James (6 yards) and Damian Nunez (2 yards) and on a 40-yard pass from Oblad to Dedeaux.
Elijah Hicks scored on runs of 10 and 6 yards for Las Vegas (6-3, 2-2), but by that time the game was out of reach.
Stowers logged 87 yards on 10 carries to help Liberty, and Oblad completed 12 of 20 passes for 227 yards.
Hicks led the Wildcats with 88 yards on 16 carries.
Basic 25, Coronado 13 — At Basic, Aeneas McAllister threw for 147 yards, caught a 25-yard touchdown pass and had a 5-yard touchdown run to lead the Wolves over the Cougars.
Sean White added eight carries for 43 yards for Basic (8-1, 4-0 Southeast).
Da’Quan Davis scored both touchdowns for Coronado (3-6, 1-3) in a span of five minutes on the game clock. The first came on a 14-yard run just before the half, and the second on a 75-yard kickoff return with 10:40 to go in the third quarter.
Landon Rowland completed 9 of 20 passes for 118 passing yards for the Cougars, but was intercepted four times.
McAllister started the scoring on Basic’s first drive of the game, hauling in a 25-yard touchdown pass from brother Aaron McAllister on a trick play with 7:58 left in the first quarter. Standing in shotgun formation before the snap, Aeneas McAllister walked toward wide receiver Frank Harris, pretending to give directions, and stopped at the line of scrimmage while Aaron McAllister took the snap.
With Coronado’s defense caught out of position the younger McAllister found the starting quarterback wide open on a slant route to give Basic a 6-0 lead.
The Cougars responded when Davis took a misdirection handoff 14 yards to the end zone, giving Coronado a 7-6 lead with 3:11 to play in the second quarter.
Basic went back on top to open the second half, scoring on a 2-yard run from John Funaki with 10:54 left in the third quarter to make it 12-7.
Funaki’s run was set up by a 76-yard pass from Aeneas McAllister to Deondre Ishman that put the Wolves inside Coronado’s 5-yard line.
Davis responded on the ensuing kickoff, running 75 yards up the middle of the field to give Coronado a 13-12 edge with 10:40 to play in the third quarter.
Basic kicker Montana Gomez added field goals from 35 yards and 28 yards on the Wolves’ next two possessions, and the home team never looked back.
With Basic Leading 18-13 with just less than a minute left in the third quarter, Aeneas McAllister scored on an 5-yard touchdown run to put the Wolves up 25-13.
Silverado 7, Canyon Springs 0 — At Silverado, early in the second quarter Devion Clayton scooped up his own punt which failed to cross the line of scrimmage and raced 41 yards for a touchdown that proved to be the only score of the game.
Clayton’s punt shot straight into the the air and took a bounce just behind the line of scrimmage. At first both teams had no reaction to the punt, but just after the ball took its first bounce, Clayton swiftly snatched the ball in stride and blew through the first line of defenders untouched. Clayton broke two tackles near the end zone before scoring.
Seth Georgelos led Silverado (6-3, 3-1 Northeast) with 51 yards on 18 carries, and the Skyhawk defense held Canyon Springs (3-6, 1-3) to just 108 yards of total offense.
Arbor View 35, Shadow Ridge 0 — At Arbor View, Curtis Jones rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns as the Aggies defeated Shadow Ridge in a Sunset Region quarterfinal.
The third-ranked Aggies (9-1), who will host Desert Oasis (7-3) in a region semifinal next Friday, rushed for 330 yards and collected three turnovers to stifle the Mustangs.
Hayden Bollinger opened the scoring on a 3-yard run on Arbor View’s second drive, following an interception of Mustang quarterback Kody Presser. Jones highlighted that drive with a 30-yard run to help put the Aggies in scoring range, with Bollinger’s plunge soon following.
Jones got on the board himself in the second quarter on a 9-yard run. The Mustangs made several drives into Aggie territory in the half, but stalled out when closing in on the red zone.
Jones scored again to open the second half, capping a 60-yard drive with a 4-yard run. The subsequent Mustang drive ended with a fumble, leading to Jones’ final score in the fourth quarter, a 3-yard plunge. Dante Miller rounded out the scoring with a 12-yard run on the last Aggie possession.
Tyler Gholston, who left the game with an injury in the third quarter, led the Mustangs (1-9) with 58 yards rushing on 11 carries.
Bishop Gorman 63, Cimarron-Memorial 7 — At Gorman, Biaggio Ali Walsh rushed for 209 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries, and quarterback Tate Martell completed 5 of 14 passes for 102 yards and three TDs to lead the top-ranked Gaels (11-0) over the Spartans (2-8) in a Sunset Region quarterfinal
Gorman will host Centennial (8-2) in a Sunset semifinal next Friday.
Walsh had a 7-yard scoring run early in the first quarter, and Martell added a 2-yard TD rush and a 39-yard bullet pass to Brandon Gahagan to give Gorman a 21-0 lead after the first quarter.
Martell threw two 24-yard scoring passes — one to Tyjon Lindsey and one to Jalen Nailor — to push the Gaels’ lead to 35-0.
Cimarron’s Tyree Riley returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to make it 35-7, but the Spartans got no closer.
Gorman responded two drives later with a 2-yard TD run by Walsh for a 42-7 halftime advantage.
Walsh ran straight up the middle for a 60-yard TD scamper on the first play of the second half for the Gaels, to go up 49-7.
Gorman’s defense gave up just 126 yards to Cimarron and picked off Spartans’ quarterback George Tribble three times.
Gaels’ backup QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson ran for a 5-yard TD early in the third quarter, and Jimmy Telles returned an interception 25 yards for a score in the fourth quarter to round out the scoring for Gorman.
Spring Mountain 72, Tonopah 14 — At Spring Mountain, Diquan Spiller tossed five first-half touchdown passes, four to D’Quan Porchia, as the Golden Eagles ran away from the Muckers in a Division IV state quarterfinal.
Spring Mountain’s Guy Whitley returned the opening kickoff 54 yards for a touchdown, but the Muckers (7-3) rallied to tie the game at 8-8 on Jamaree Earl’s 37-yard run with 5 minutes, 43 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Golden Eagles (8-2) rattled off the next 64 points of the game, scoring four consecutive touchdowns on passes from Spiller to Porchia of 1, 24, 43 and 4 yards to take a 36-8 lead with 8:19 left in the second quarter.
“We always talk about we want to hit the trail running,” said Spring Mountain coach Aaron Masden. “Speed and tenacity is our strength. We have to get up right away on people and smother them, take their will out of it.”
Deonze Paster added a 42-yard scoring run, and Spiller hit Devan Taylor on a 45-yard pass to up the lead to 50-8 with 3:08 left in the first half.
After a botched snap forced Tonopah to take a safety, Kevion Berry ran 38 yards for a score, and Taylor returned an interception 77 yards on the final play of the half to make it 66-8.
Whitley tacked on a 25-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the third quarter.
Tonopah’s Tanner Otteson threw a 65-yard TD pass to Tristan Otteson on the first play of the fourth quarter to close the scoring.
Spiller completed 8 of 13 passes for 145 yards, and the Golden Eagles ran 12 times for 190 yards in the first half.
Tonopah used fake handoffs and counter running plays to gain 89 yards on its first two offensive drives, but had only 29 total yards in the remainder of the first half.
“That style of offense we always struggle with a little bit, that misdirection stuff, but we woke up to it,” Masden said.
Needles 28, White Pine 0 — At Needles, Calif., Frankie Garcia rushed for three touchdowns to power the Mustangs by the Bobcats (6-4) in a Division III state quarterfinal.
Jayden Yeager hit Trenton Poe-Evans on a 20-yard TD pass for the other score, and Jason Hernandez had three interceptions for Needles (9-1).
Lincoln County 29, The Meadows 7 — At Panaca, Cody Thornock rushed for two touchdowns as the Lynx topped the Mustangs in a Division III state quarterfinal.
McClain O’Connor had 84 yards rushing and completed 6 of 17 passes for 78 yards for Lincoln County (10-1), which led 21-7 at halftime.
Gabe Adamson, who threw for 110 yards, connected with Ethan Fridman on a 60-yard TD pass in the second quarter for The Meadows (6-5).