Liberty Bell High School solidified its status among the state’s elite 1B 8-man football teams with a 52-20 thrashing of Cusick at Mountain Lion Stadium last weekend in the first round of the state playoffs, setting up a second-round showdown with the defending state champion and No. 2-ranked Odessa Tigers on Saturday (Nov. 20).
It’s a matchup that both teams had, in a way, anticipated.
In a late summer conversation as his team ran through pre-season workouts, Liberty Bell head coach Jeff Lidey recalled a contact from Odessa.
“You know, we had a good season [the COVID-impacted spring 2021 schedule], and last week Odessa’s coach called me looking for a game this fall,” Lidey said. “We didn’t have room for them on our schedule. But you know you’ve had a good year when the No. 1 team wants to play you.”
The playoffs now provide that opportunity, but first the Mountain Lions had to get past Cusick on Saturday (Nov. 13) — and they didn’t waste any time.
Liberty Bell took charge early, recovering an opening onside kickoff attempt by the visitors, moving the ball swiftly downfield, and scoring on a 35-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Riley Lidey to freshman running back Lucien Paz. The home team was up 6-0 before most had found their seats in the packed grandstand.
The Mountain Lion defense made an early statement when Lidey batted away a fourth-down pass from his defensive backfield position. That set up the offense on the Panther side of midfield for the second possession. Once again, Liberty Bell pushed the ball effectively, Lidey scampering the final 22 yards to pay dirt for a 12-0 lead.
Another defensive stand, a Noah Holston 12-yard run, a long play to Sawyer Crandall for 42 yards, and a 2-yard dive by Paz for his second score of the night, the Lions were on the board again for an 18-0, first-quarter lead.
Cusick’s quarterback, Colton Seymour, was a point of emphasis for Coach Lidey. “We knew we had to stop Seymour as he is very fast and elusive,” Lidey said.
Happy at halftime
Indeed, the Panther signal caller showed flashes of that quickness as he led his team on a late first-quarter drive capped by Nathaniel Russell’s 2-yard touchdown run, cutting the Mountain Lion lead to 18-6 at the end of the opening period. Seymour added a 17-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, closing the Liberty Bell lead to 18-12, but that was as close as the Panthers would get. Holston and Paz each added a touchdown, set up by strong defensive efforts including a forced fourth-down intentional grounding penalty that turned the ball over to the Lions at the Cusick 1-yard line.
Another defensive stand by Liberty Bell culminated when Riley Lidey electrified the crowd with a 70-yard intercepted pass return for the final score of the first half. That put the Mountain Lions up by a 38-12 score at the intermission.
On his way to the locker room, Coach Lidey was approving of the effort. “We’re doing everything the way we planned it,” the coach said. “I’m pretty happy right now.”
Cusick opened the scoring in the second half with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Seymour to Russell, adding the two-point conversion to make the score 38-20, and that was that for the Panthers.
Holston scored on a tackle-breaking, 17-yard dash with 4:03 to go in the third quarter and Crandall set the final score at 52-20 with a 58-yard touchdown run with 10:57 left on the game clock. The Mountain lions used solid defensive play and ball control offense to run the clock out and secure the first state playoff win since Liberty Bell opened its doors in 1973-74.
It was all smiles in the post-game rain. Paz, after finding pay dirt for the third time in the second quarter, wanted to make sure the offensive line got the credit they were due, opening up holes and creating opportunities for the Mountain Lion attack as well as protecting quarterback Lidey and the passing game.
“Give those guys some love. They’re working hard,” said Paz. “They get most of the credit tonight.”
Paz rushed for 78 yards on 15 carries as he led a balanced running attack that saw three runners each with over 60 yards. Lidey threw the ball only nine times, completing six for 128 yards and the one touchdown to Paz.
“Defense was the key to this game,” said Coach Lidey. “We knew that we had to work as a team to corral Seymour and we did exactly that.”
Riley Lidey’s interception return was a flashy highlight on a blue collar defensive effort. Beau Tanguy and Quincy Scott each had 10 tackles on the afternoon, Holston and Grey Patterson added eight apiece and Nicholas White played a solid game in the defensive backfield with four tackles and several deflected passes.
On Saturday the Mountain Lions travel to Moses Lake’s Lions Field for a 3 p.m. kickoff against Odessa, a perennial participant in the state 8-Man tournament, making the final four each of the past four tourneys. The Tigers, who are the two-time defending state champions, drew a bye in the first round of this year’s 12-team tournament.
Odessa is 9-1 on the season, their only loss coming at the hands of No. 1 seed Almira-Coulee-Hartline, 50-20, in early October. They average 61.3 points per game and hold their opponents to an average of 22.4 points. They average nearly 400 yards per game rushing and another 92 yards per game passing.
Davey McMillan leads the Odessa rushing attack with 1,342 yards in nine games this season. Junior Collin Martin quarterbacks the team, averaging 87.8 yards per game passing, and is not afraid to run as the third-leading rusher on the Tiger team.
“Odessa is the most-disciplined team in the state,” Coach Lidey said. “This is our state championship. Beating a team like Odessa takes that mentality. We will leave everything on the field Saturday.”
In the other second-round games, all to be played Saturday, No. 11 Winlock travels to Sammamish High School to take on No. 3 Quilcene. No. 5 Naselle travels to No. 4 Pomeroy to play the Pirates, who were responsible for Liberty Bell’s only loss this season. No. 1 Almira-Coulee-Hartline hosts No. 8 Wilbur-Creston-Keller in this week’s alphabet soup game, preceding the Liberty Bell-Odessa tilt on Lions Field, kickoff at noon Saturday.
The four winners move along to the semi-finals on Nov. 27 (sites and times to be determined), the two finalists teeing it up on Dec. 4 at noon on the field at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.