MISSION VIEJO — Oh what a difference a year can make.
A day short of the anniversary of suffering a loss in the 2021 CIF State Division 1-AA title game, Liberty made the most of its second chance.
Senior Kresean Kizzy scored three touchdowns — in about every fashion possible — and the Patriots rolled to a 48-20 victory over Pittsburg to capture the state 1-A championship on Saturday at Saddleback College.
It is the first state football championship for Liberty (13-2), which lost to Gardena-Serra 21-16 on the same field last year.
“They talked about it for 365 days that they wanted to get back and finish,” said Liberty coach Bryan Nixon, whose team defeated Pittsburg last year to win the Northern California 1-AA Regional title at Bakersfield College. “I couldn’t be more happy for them. They talked it into existence. They worked it into existence and they finished the deal.”
Liberty and Kizzy wasted little time getting going. Kizzy stepped in front of a Jaden Rashada pass and returned it 48 yards for a score to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead just 1:30 into the game.
Then after Pittsburg closed to within 7-6, Kizzy took the ensuing kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown to give his team a 14-6 lead with 2:04 left in the opening quarter.
The Patriots padded their lead in the second quarter with a pair of scoring passes, both to senior Xander Chisolm from junior Cole O’Brien, who returned to action after missing last week's regional victory over Yorba Linda while on concussion protocol.
O’Brien rolled to his right and found Chisolm along the sidelines and he took care of the rest, sprinting 51 yards to make it 21-6 Liberty.
Just before the half, Chisholm capped a 78-yard, six-play drive with a 4-yard TD reception to make it 27-6 with 57 seconds left in the half. The PAT was missed. Chisolm had four catches for 74 yards.
Liberty’s balanced offensive attack also included solid nights from senior running back Jalen Hankins (70 yards on 13 carries) and junior Mehki Delouth (10 carries for 66 yards, who capped the game’s scoring with a 21-yard TD run with 4:35 to play.
The Pirates (12-3) struggled to move the ball consistently in the first half, with Rashada under constant pressure. Liberty junior Dylan Delgado had four sacks in the first half, with teammate Grant Buckey in on at least two and batting down a pass.
“It’s a great feeling,” Buckey said. “It’s a goal we had ever since we came to this school freshman year. Last year we came up short, so it’s huge to be able to go out like this.”
Rashada, who has committed to play at Florida, was just 8 of 18 in the first half for 134 yards and the one big interception. He finished 20 of 36 for 320 yards and three touchdowns, but threw two interceptions and was sacked seven times by a relentless Liberty defense, including four times by Dylan Delgado.
Things didn’t get much better for the talented quarterback, or his team, in the final 24 minutes.
Already leading 27-6 at the half, Liberty moved the ball 80 yards on 11 plays on the opening possession of the third quarter, with O’Brien finishing things off with a 1-yard touchdown to make it 33-6. O’Brien was also 9 of 14 passing for 242 yards and three touchdowns.
After Pittsburg scored to pull within 34-13, the Pirates forced Liberty to punt and began moving the ball toward midfield. But Kizzy made a leaping interception at the Liberty 14 to stop the drive, and regain the momentum for the Patriots.
Two plays later, Kizzy got behind the Pirates’ defense, hauled in a pass from O’Brien and sprinted 85 yards for a touchdown to make it 41-13 just 16 seconds into the fourth quarter.
“It was amazing,” said Kizzy, who finished with four catches for 129 yards. “I celebrated with my family, my brothers are all here. I didn’t know what we were going to do, but I prayed that we’d win state. We made it back and we actually finished this time. It’s been an amazing run.”
Rashada guided his team down the field for one more touchdown drive to cut the lead to 41-20, but just as it had all night, the Patriots had an answer. After a first-down run by O’Brien, Hankins broke free for 26 yards, and Delouth followed with his scoring run to make it a four-score game once again.
“I’m just ecstatic and so happy for these kids,” Nixon said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game and our kids came out and played well in all three phases of the game. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”