Liberty linebacker Ethan Tuilagi knifed his way into the backfield and delivered a big blow on Silverado running back Alek Aragon, jarring the ball loose.
And that play signaled that Saturday was going to be a better night for the Patriots’ defense.
Liberty stopped Silverado three times after the Skyhawks had driven into the red zone, the first when Tuilagi forced the fumble on first-and-goal from the 3, and the fourth-ranked Patriots earned a 35-8 home victory.
“That’s a big momentum changer right there, being able to step up and make a play,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “We really have kind of been struggling with that this year up to this point.”
The Patriots had given up 108 points in two losses to out-of-state teams to start the season, but were able to turn No. 9 Silverado away on three big drives. Liberty led 7-0 before Tuilagi forced the fumble, ending a 17-play Silverado drive.
Josh Bernard-Lee pounced on the loose ball, and Liberty turned around and went 96 yards on 13 plays, capped by a 24-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Newman to Deseon McQuaig.
Silverado drove to the Liberty 10 late in the first half, but four straight incompletions ended that drive.
“Silverado did an amazing job of controlling the clock and time of possession and number of plays run,” Muraco said. “We’ve got to be better. We’ve got to do a better job on defense. We weren’t able to get enough three-and-outs, and we definitely need to get better. But obviously eight’s better than 48 and 60, so we’ll take that.”
Silverado got good pressure on Newman early, sacking him twice on the first two Liberty possessions. But the Patriots were able to get their quarterback more time later in the game, and he took advantage. He had a string of seven straight completions and finished 10 for 16 for 226 yards and four touchdowns.
“They’re in a hard spot. It’s their first game of the year, and I’m sure they’re not in game shape for four quarters,” Muraco said of Silverado. “And we were able to protect him and allow him to throw the ball.
“Especially in a game like this against them where they’re controlling the clock, it was really important that Tyler was able to be efficient and complete the passes.”
Newman hooked up with McQuaig for three TD passes. His 50-yard reception capped a five-play, 85-yard drive that put Liberty up 21-8 with 4:16 left in the third quarter.
McQuaig added another 50-yard touchdown catch with 3:55 to play to make it 35-8. He finished with four catches for 131 yards.
“McQuaig is a playmaker. He just makes plays,” Muraco said. “In practice, he doesn’t really step up and do anything amazing, but man, when he gets under the lights on Friday night or Saturday night, he makes plays.”
Tight end Noah Jefferson added a 45-yard TD catch with 1:37 left in the third quarter.
Jarrett Alipio had 70 yards on 13 carries to lead Silverado, which finished with 162 rushing yards on 54 carries.
Silverado’s touchdown came on a 2-yard run by Braden Weaver that capped an 11-play, 50-yard drive.