The Liberty Patriots took care of business Friday night. Now it’s on to the Central Section Division I semifinals, where they’ll face a familiar foe.
No. 3 Liberty rolled to a 42-20 victory over No. 6 Clovis in Friday’s quarterfinals round. They’ll take the field in next week’s semifinals at No. 2 Clovis-Buchanan, next Friday at 7 p.m.
The two teams met earlier this season, with the Patriots suffering their only loss of the year — a 28-13 defeat on their homefield. Still, that was in Week 4 of the season, and both teams have come a long way since. The Patriots (11-1) have won eight straight games while the Bears (10-2) have won six in a row, including a 48-17 quarterfinals win of their own over Arroyo Grande.
In other words, all things set up for a semifinals showdown.
“They’re an unbelievable team. They have stars everywhere,” said Patriots senior running back Sam Stewart Jr. “Great athletes. I most definitely believe that we’re a better team (since the first matchup) and I’m pretty sure they’re a better team. It’s going to be a great game.”
Ironically, the Patriots began their current eight game run with a 48-10 win over Clovis on Sept. 7. With that, similar to their last meeting, Liberty dominated once again in Friday’s quarterfinal.
The Patriots played a good first half, taking a 21-0 lead on the strength of two short Stewart rushing touchdowns and a 7-yard TD pass from Hector Gonzalez to Connor Matzke.
Stewart was all over the field in the first two quarters, rushing for over 100 yards offensively while recording a sack and interception from his defensive linebacker position. Stewart brought his second quarter pickoff down inside the Clovis 10-yard line, which set up his 4-yard scoring run moments later and gave Liberty a 14-0 lead.
Clovis scored a legitimate touchdown on the Liberty defense — a rarity in itself — late in the second quarter when sophomore running back Jordy Hillford took it in from 7-yards out. The TD was set up by Isaiah Robles’ 23-yard pass to Tristan Risley, which brought the ball inside the Patriots 10-yard line.
But Liberty answered with a textbook two-minute drill to close out the first half. The Patriots, who started at around their own 40-yard line, continued to run the ball with Stewart while Gonzalez made smart decisions with the football. His 7-yard scoring pass to Damian Harless was perfectly placed — over the middle, with a defender draped over the receiver — and Harless made a nice grab, as the Patriots took a 28-7 lead into the locker room
“Huge. Great answer for us,” Liberty head coach Bryan Nixon said.
The Patriots got the ball back to start the third quarter and scored once again. Clovis attempted an onside kick coming out of the locker room, Liberty recovered, and Gonzalez went up top to Martin immediately for a 45-yard touchdown pass.
“That’s what we talked about at halftime. Come out and try to get after it,” Nixon said. “Our kids did that... Thought they fought well for 48 minutes.”
Liberty has surrendered just 51 points during their eight game win streak.
With that said, Clovis’ 20 points on Friday were misleading — while the Bears made some plays through the air, their two fourth quarter touchdowns came with the game all but over and the backups in. Clovis scored on a 96-yard pass on the final play of the contest.
The Patriots recorded five sacks in the victory.
No. 3 Liberty 42, No. 6 Clovis 20
Clovis 0 7 0 14 — 20
Liberty 7 21 14 0 — 42
L - Stewart 5 run (Blevins kick)
L - Stewart 4 run (Blevins kick)
L - Gonzalez 7 pass to Matzke (Blevins kick)
C - Hilford 6 run (Graham kick)
L - Gonzalez 7 pass to Harless (Blevins kick)
L - Gonzalez 45 pass to Martin (Blevins kick)
L - Mann 8 run (Blevins kick)
C - Sanders 48 pass to Dove (Graham kick)
C - Sanders 96 pass to Sanchez (extra point failed)
RUSHING — C: Robles 5-22, Risley 3-18, Hilford 4-9, Sanders 1-9, Fierro 1-3, Johnson 3-2. L: Stewart Jr. 24-148, Mann 3-24, Mariscal 4-13, Gonzalez 2-4, Villanueva 2-2.
PASSING — C: Robles 13-29-1-171, Sanders 3-5-0-156; L: Gonzalez 10-16-0-157, Mann 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING — C: Sanchez 3-142, Dove 7-83, Lake 3-69, Risley 1-23, Fierro 2-0. L: Martin 2-87, Matzke 2-22, Henderson 2-19, Stewart 2-11, Riley 1-11, Harless 1-7.
W-L: CHS 7-5; LHS 11-1.