The No. 5 seeded Liberty Bell High School Mountain Lions dominated both offensively and defensively from the opening whistle of Saturday’s quarterfinal in the state 1B football tournament, and sent No. 4 seed Mossyrock home with a 54-20 loss at Tenino High School.
Liberty Bell now moves on to the state semifinals for the first time ever, on Saturday (Nov. 26) in Moses Lake at noon, where it will face top-ranked Odessa in an effort to advance to the finals.
In Tenino, it was an exquisite autumn afternoon that Liberty Bell Assistant Coach Jacob McMillan described as “perfect for football.”
The jet-black artificial turf, highlighted in red, emphasized the white- and red-clad participants, under an azure blue sky with the freshly blanketed Mount Rainier standing guard beyond the east end zone. Deep forest green conifers were punctuated by the red, orange and yellow hues of the changing big leaf maples. It All conjured up images of a collaborative effort by American folk stylist Norman Rockwell and French impressionist Claude Monet.
Mossyrock looked, comparatively and on paper, to be a solid test for Liberty Bell. The game started as if defense was going to be the difference. The Mountain Lion defense set the tone early, though, and essentially put the game away in a formidable first half, leading 36-0 when the teams went to the midway break.
Big first half
Liberty Bell recovered the opening kickoff, an on-side attempt, and drove the ball downfield with a mix of Lucien Paz rushes and Riley Lidey passes. Sawyer Crandall hauled in an 18-yard pass from Lidey for the first score and a 6-0 lead. The two-point conversion by Paz extended the early lead to 8-0.
The Mountain Lions shut down the Vikings on their first offensive possession with two tackles for loss and an illegal shift penalty against the Mossyrock backfield. That set up the Mountain Lions for their second consecutive scoring drive and a 14-0 lead, highlighted by a Beau Tanguy catch for a long third down conversion and a 7-yard pass to Paz, who ball hugged the pigskin as he crossed the line to close out the first quarter scoring at 14-0.
Mossyrock’s only threatening drive of the first quarter was extinguished when sophomore quarterback Easton Kolb’s pass was intercepted by Crandall at the Liberty Bell 20 yard. He returned the ball to the 36. Crandall followed that with a 20-yard reception from Lidey, and the white-clad Monsters of the Methow were on the march again as the first quarter expired.
The second period opened with Liberty Bell pushing the ball downfield in chunks. Lidey extended the drive with a fourth-down, 1-yard dive play. A nifty run-after-catch by the shifty Paz set up a 4-yard touchdown pass to Crandall and the conversion ran the score out to 22-0.
Liberty Bell held the Vikings to a single first down on the next drive, and then a 39-yard touchdown dash by Lucien Paz gave the Lions a 30-0 lead. Another defensive stop, highlighted by Lidey’s third-down blitz and sack of Kolb to force fourth and 21, gave the ball back to the Lions.
This time, Remi Paz ripped off a nifty, shifty, 12-yard zigzag run, and Lucien Paz added a 10-yard gainer. From the 9 yard line, Merek Johnson carried the ball down to the 3. Lidey dove to the 1, then hit pass Remy Paz on fourth and goal for the score. The teams went to halftime with Liberty Bell up by 36-0. Three missed point-after-touchdown conversions were all that prevented the second half from being played under the 40-point running clock rule.
Mossyrock mounted a bit of an insurrection in the third quarter, but the Mountain Lions were in full response mode. Kolb scored on a 3-yard quarterback keeper play to break up the shutout with 9:09 on the clock. The Vikings attempted an onside kick, but sure-handed Kaden Borowski grabbed the ball and dashed through the Viking front line to the Mossyrock 40-yard line. Lidey targeted Crandall for his third touchdown reception of the game and a 42-6 Mountain Lion lead.
The Vikings weren’t done. After a first down, Alex Ramsay-George tried to quell the uprising with a nice drop of Mossyrock running back Sage Griesen for a 5-yard loss, but Griesen responded a short time later with a 30-yard gallop to pay dirt and the deficit was cut to 42-12.
The third quarter began to resemble a spring season track meet as the Mountain Lions sprinted back on a two-play drive with a first down pass to Johnson, followed by a Lidey 40-yard dash, moving the advantage to 48-12 at the end of the third quarter.
The Vikings had one more score left in them, a 70-yard pass play from Easton Kolb to his senior brother Keegan Kolb with 10:38 to go in the contest. Mossyrock recovered the ensuing onside kick near midfield. The defense rose to the challenge, as Ramsey-George and Tanguy teamed for a tackle of Giesen for loss, Connor Arndt sacked quarterback and Crandall knocked down a fourth-down pass to turn the ball over with 7:03 left in the game.
A holding penalty, followed by a Mountain Lion false start, had Liberty Bell at first and 26 yards to go, hoping to run the clock out and end the game. Lidey hit Crandall for 21 yards, then ran for a big gainer and first down to the Mossyrock 42 yard line.
Hoping for a possession game as the clock wound down, Lidey found Brody Barnhart over the middle on a safe, short gainer that Barnhart broke for the far sideline and then turned downfield with nobody in front of him, finding the end zone and six more points to close out the scoring.
Ready to respond
“Our guys played well today,” said a smiling Coach Jeff Lidey. “They were focused and didn’t get rattled when Mossyrock got some scores.”
Lidey said that he had several conversations with the team this week about how Mossyrock was a powerful group and were going to score some points. “Since we have had some blowout and shutout wins lately, we wanted them to know that if they scored some points, that would be OK,” the coach said. “We would just have to be ready to respond to that.”
Lidey didn’t expect to be leading 36-0 at halftime, which was a nice buffer to have when Mossyrock figured out something about Liberty Bell’s defense in the third quarter. Lidey said he subbed in some less-experienced and younger players, integrating them in with the varsity. “That was some of it,” he said post-game. “We want to give some of our younger players the experience of a big game like this to help them improve and give them a taste of the playoffs. They all played very well.”
The road gets tougher this coming Saturday (Nov. 26) when Liberty Bell plays, for the first time in school history, in the semi-finals of a state football tournament as one of the final four teams. The No. 1 seeded Odessa Tigers stand in the way of a history-making appearance in the state championship game on Dec. 3. The Tigers advanced with a thrilling 76-74 win over the Naselle Comets on Saturday, a game played in Moses Lake.
This will be the third clash between Liberty Bell and Odessa in essentially a year. The Tigers eliminated the Mountain Lions from last year’s state tourney in the round of eight. The teams met in this year’s season opener at Odessa, a 42-22 loss for Liberty Bell.
Slowing down senior running back Gage Starkel will be a chore, and key to a Mountain Lion win. Starkel is averaging 170 yards per game this season, recently piling up 330 yards on 27 carries against Almira-Coulee-Hartline. He had 26 touchdowns on the season before this past weekend’s playoff game versus Naselle.