Liberty takes control in second half and wins 45-35 over Clovis.
Liberty appeared to be doing his best in the first 24 minutes on Friday night and entered halftime with a four-point lead over Clovis.
But it turned out the Patriots were just warming up.
After briefly losing the lead when Clovis opened the second half with a lengthy touchdown series, Liberty responded with perhaps his best football of the season.
The No. 4 Patriots scored 21 consecutive points during a seven-minute stretch to build a comfortable lead and then controlled the action in a 45-35 victory over the No. 5 Cougars in the Division I quarterfinals of the Central Section in Liberty.
“Our kids came out and played really hard tonight,” Liberty coach Bryan Nixon said. “We are going to watch a movie and try to correct some mistakes. But we are in the playoffs, we have a chance to win, so we can move on. So we are excited about that. ”
Liberty (8-2) advances to play No. 1 Clovis-Buchanan (10-1) in next week’s DI semifinals. The Bears, who defeated No. 8 Clovis North 35-3 on Friday, are ranked 16th in the state by CalHiSports.
“It’s the playoffs,” Nixon said. “Buchanan is a good football team, so we have to go see a movie and see what we have to do.”
Trailing 17-13 at the half, Clovis (6-5) took his first lead of the game when quarterback Nate Johnson connected with running back Tristan Risley on a 58-yard pass play with just 6 and 1 plays. : 36 in the third quarter. Johnson had a great night, throwing for 253 yards on 12 of 23 passes and also rushing for 129 yards on 12 carries.
The Cougars’ 20-17 lead turned out to be short-lived – two minutes and 59 seconds to be precise.
Liberty had a quick response. Jalen Hankins eliminated a 30-yard run on his team’s first play of the second half, moving the ball to Clovis 35. Seven plays later, quarterback Carson Woods scored on a 4-yard dash to give his team the definitive advantage, 24-20 with 7:25 remaining in the third quarter.
After forcing a punt from Cougar, Jason Oliver kicked back 23 yards, and four plays later, Hankins rounded the corner and finished off a 17-yard run in the end zone to build the lead to 31-20 with 4: 59 to be played. third.
Luke Wattenbarger intercepted a Johnson pass on Clovis’ next possession, leading to another Hankins scoring run, this one from nine yards, for a 38-20 lead on the second play of the fourth quarter.
“Our kids responded well when they took the lead,” Nixon said. “Our children went out and they never looked back. So it’s very exciting how they came out and responded, and we move on to next week. ”
Clovis slowed Liberty’s momentum temporarily with a two-point touchdown and conversion, but Kresean Kizzy returned the kickoff 60 yards to set up Hankins’ fourth touchdown run of the game. Hankins finished his final score of the night by stepping over the pile and into the end zone for a two-yard score to build the Patriots’ lead to 45-28 with 8:07 to play.
Hankins finished with a game-high 146 yards rushing on 22 carries. He opened the score for the game with a four-yard touchdown run on his team’s opening possession of the game.
Wattenbarger, who also had a sack, helped get Liberty off to a fast start.
After Johnson broke free for an 89-yard touchdown run to tie the game, Wattenbarger scored on a 51-yard pass play from Woods that gave the Patriots a 14-7 lead with 47 seconds left in the game first quarter. Woods made 11 of 15 passes for 197 yards, and also rushed for 44 yards on 10 carries.
The Cougars responded with a touchdown of their own, a 1-yard run by Risley, but the extra point was blocked by Oliver leaving Liberty ahead, 14-13. Risley had 118 yards rushing and 71 receiving yards.
“We came prepared for a dogfight and that’s what we got,” said two-way lineman Grant Buckey. “We just have to keep fighting and not give up, not go down and just get to the end zone and stop them at ‘D'”
The Patriots reinforced their lead with a 37-yard field goal from Dylan Lynch on the final play of the first half to make it 17-13 at halftime.
“We had a good week of practice,” Oliver said. “We knew what they were going to do and what they were going to do, we just had to stop the race. We knew we would be good on our offense. We really just needed to correct the mistakes that we were making from the beginning. Once they went up … we had a game (two weeks ago against BHS) where we were down and we came back, so actually down giving us a kick in a different gear for us. And we started executing in all phases and they helped us move forward to have a great game.”