It was woodshed night in the Central Section Division I playoffs Friday, and setting the tone was not a top seed but No. 8 Liberty High, which scored two quick touchdowns and cruised to a 28-3 home victory over No. 9 Clovis-Buchanan.
Corbin Jountti gained 139 rushing yards and a touchdown for the Patriots (7-4), who held Buchanan's offense to 213 yards, most after the game was in hand.
"We weren't our best offensively, but our defense played really well," Liberty coach Tony Mills said.
Now, Liberty travels to top seed Clovis (9-1) in Friday's quarterfinals. The Patriots will be underdogs in that one, but a one-point loss to No. 4 Fresno-Central and a victory over No. 5 Bakersfield have them convinced they can compete.
"If Central had beaten Clovis (Clovis won 15-12), they would have been the top seed," Liberty linebacker Darren Adjei said. "If BHS continued on, they would have been the top seed. We know that if we can play our A game, we can play with anybody in the Valley. And besides, it's playoff time. You control your own destiny now.”
In other first-round Division I games, No. 4 seed Fresno-Central, No. 5 Bakersfield, No. 6 Fresno-Edison and No. 10 Fresno-Bullard cruised by an average of 37.5 points. That made for a dull first round but sets up four quarterfinals (top seeds Clovis, Clovis North and Frontier had byes) between teams playing very well.
Adjei had two sacks for a Liberty defense that set the tone early against Buchanan (4-7). Bears running back Yusuf Robinson lost a fumble on the game’s second play from scrimmage, and three plays later, Liberty quarterback Josh Medina hit Kenny Davis for a 5-yard touchdown pass.
Buchanan went three-and-out on its next possession, and Liberty marched 60 yards down the field for another score, this one a 4-yard run from Jountti.
“We got helped by a good start,” Mills said. “We got a turnover, then a quick touchdown, and then we got another quick touchdown.”
The quick start certainly made things easier for the Liberty defense, which forced two turnovers and only let Buchanan cross midfield twice in the first three quarters. Bears quarterback Tyler Fry finished with 101 yards, but he was just 8-of-27 passing and never found a rhythm.
“We pride ourselves on coming out and doing defensive things, stopping the run,” Adjei said. “I really think the key to our success was stopping their run and making them one-dimensional.
“I think they came out with more power sets than we were expecting. They wanted to push us off the ball because of our smaller line, impose their will on us. When they figured out they couldn’t and tried spreading us out, we made them one-dimensional and went to blitz.”
Davis added a highlight-reel worthy 38-yard touchdown in the third quarter when he took a lateral pass from Medina, made two men miss and then sprinted along the sideline, somehow staying inbounds into the end zone.
“Kenny Davis is a great receiver, strong lower half,” Mills said. “He does a lot of the dirty work for us.”
That made it 28-0, and a 28-yard field goal from Buchanan’s Brett Arkelian was of cosmetic value only. Now the Patriots take a three-game winning streak into next week’s test at Clovis.
“This team we have here, it has an opportunity in front of itself,” Mills said. “We just need to stay level-headed and hungry. We’re very fortunate, because we went through a lot of injuries this year, and we kept it together and put a win streak together. We know Clovis is the No. 1 seed and an excellent football program. But we’re going to give it our best shot up there.”