The sweetest thing about this shocker for Liberty High had nothing to do with a lucky bounce or a big play or even the ranking of a Bakersfield High team the Patriots had defeated, 28-17, on Friday night at Griffith Field.
The sweetest thing? Liberty pounding out yardage in the second half, watching the clock melt away, with the mighty Drillers powerless to do anything about it.
"It was amazing," said Liberty center Cole Mazza. "Bakersfield is a great team, and we give them a lot of respect, but we worked our butts off and we earned this."
The Patriots (4-2, 1-0 Southwest Yosemite League) led 14-3 at halftime and struck first in the second half when Justin Nieto recovered a fumble on the second play of the third quarter and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown and a 21-3 lead.
From there, Bakersfield (5-1, 0-1) twice pulled within 11, on rushing touchdowns by Asauni Rufus and Jeremiah Reddick.
“It's a big, big win,” Liberty coach Tony Mills said. “Bakersfield is an outstanding team, one of the best teams I've ever coached against. But we played great team defense. It was a sweet little victory for us.”
Jountti finished with 127 rushing yards on 28 carries. Liberty quarterback Josh Medina was 10-of-15 for 201 yards, none of the passes bigger than his 69-yard scoring strike to Christian Sinnott on the first play of the second quarter, giving Liberty its first lead at 7-3.
Bakersfield sent a heavy blitz on the play, and Medina, under pressure, heaved it long for Sinnott, who had beaten his defender deep.
“I just saw him go behind the defense and put it up,” Medina said. “Christian's my guy, and I trust him to go get it.”
Sinnott finished with 101 receiving yards, and Kenny Davis had four catches for 70 more yards. Liberty made it 14-3 on Anthony Mariscal's 10-yard scoring run 2:44 before halftime and then kept the Drillers at bay until halftime.
“We said in the locker room, we knew BHS was a second-half team,” Mazza said. “We can't let them get momentum.”
When Rufus fumbled an option pitch that then bounced off his helmet and right into the arms of the streaking Nieto, momentum and a huge lead belonged to Liberty.
For Bakersfield, Reddick had 111 rushing yards.
Rufus had 70 yards and a touchdown rushing and added 174 passing yards with a late touchdown pass to Kevin Hayes, who finished with seven catches for 151 yards.
But many of those came after Bakersfield had fallen behind.
“They did a great job,” Drillers coach Paul Golla said. “Hats off to them. They played hard.”
As Liberty was building its lead in the first half, Bakersfield had two long touchdowns called back because of penalties: A would-be 62-yard punt return from Hayes (illegal block in the back) and a would-be 80-yard touchdown run from Reddick (personal foul, one of six called on BHS).
“I could second-guess a lot of things,” Golla said. “But what we need to understand is that this isn't the worst thing that could happen to us. You build character when you fail, as long as you fail forward. Our goal on Monday will be exactly the same. We'll focus on the little things, focus on us, and if we do that, I think we can be a heck of a football team.”
Liberty does, too. Two weeks after losing a home game to Division III Ridgeview, the Patriots stunned the top team and defending champion in Division I. Up next? Well, first, a Saturday morning practice.
“We need to stay focused,” Mills said, somehow containing excitement as his players sang and chanted around him. “We can't get caught up in this. It's Week 6. We'll enjoy this tonight, and then it's back to work at 9 a.m.”