The No. 1 ranked and defending state champion Liberty Bell High School Mountain Lions were, by a vote of the CW1B schools, awarded the No. 3 of four seeds into the District 6 8-man football bracket. That meant going on the road for their first 2023 post season game to play No. 2 seed Moses Lake Christian Academy-Covenant Christian Academy Lions.
Head Coach Jeff Lidey was incredulous about the seeding, but also philosophical. “We’ll just have to go down there and play well so we can come home and play again next week,” he said. Play well they did and, just maybe, took advantage of the first half of Saturday’s match-up in Moses Lake to make a statement of feeling regarding the league’s apparent lack of respect in the seeding process.
The final score was 64-30, and it really wasn’t indicative of how outmatched the CW1B league runner-up Lions were on the sunny late Saturday afternoon. Indeed, after just 10 minutes of play in the first half (two minutes into the second quarter) the Mountain Lions had built a 50-8 lead and the remaining 22 minutes of the 32-minute game would be played under the high school 40-point mercy rule with a running clock.
Liberty Bell began the game by taking the opening kickoff down the field for the first touchdown, a 2-point conversion and the 8-0 early lead. The Lions quickly turned the ball over to Liberty Bell at midfield. An 18-yard scamper by Lucien Paz, and a 32-yard pass from Lucien to brother Remi, put the Mountain Lions up 16-0.
Baker Smith kicked the ball deep into the MLCA end. The Lion receiver fumbled, and was tackled at the 2 yard line. Three incomplete passes later, MLCA was in a fourth-and-10 situation, backs against their own goal line. Almost inexplicably, MLCA lined up in their regular offensive set and attempted a fourth-down pass. Remi Paz knocked it down, and Liberty Bell was in business at the MLCA 2-yard line. A handoff to Remi resulted in a 22-0 lead.
Another deep kick and good special teams coverage had MLCA starting at their own 7 yard line, where the fumble bug bit again. Smith recovered this time at the MLCA 9-yard line. Three plays later, Bodie Thomson took the handoff from the elder Paz into the end zone from the 3-yard line for the 28-0 lead. After another kickoff and another MLCA turnover (via a Remi Paz interception), a scrambling Lucien Paz found Smith down the right sideline for a 30-yard touchdown and a 36-0 lead.
MLCA’s only real highlight play came near the end of the quarter when quarterback Rubin Ulyanchuk broke free up the middle on a designed run play and sprinted 75 yards to the end zone. The 2-point conversion was good to make the score 36-8 near the end of the opening quarter. Following an attempted onside kickoff recovered by Liberty Bell, the Mountain Lions quickly moved the ball down the field, as the quarter clock ran out with Liberty Bell driving at the MLCA 11-yard line.
The first play of the second quarter was a pass to senior receiver Brody Barnhart for those 11 yards and 6 more points. The point after touchdown conversion was good and the lead grew to 44-8. A kickoff and one play later, Freshman Greyden Paz intercepted the Lions pass at the 15-yard line for an easy pick six touchdown. The Mountain Lions attained the 40-plus point lead at 50-8 just two minutes into the second quarter, invoking the mercy rule and running clock for the rest of the game. The teams traded late touchdowns and went to the halftime locker room, Liberty Bell leading 56-16.
Liberty Bell would score once in the second half, a pitch option from Lucien Paz to Barnhart for 13 yards, as Lidey let up on the accelerator a bit and subbed in a number of players, particularly on the defensive unit. The Lions would score a couple of touchdowns late and Liberty Bell ran out the clock, literally, on the ground.
The MLCA-CCA program is in its infancy, this being their first year of competition. Liberty Bell assistant coaches Jacob and Jim McMillan talked about how the Lions grasped the idea of interscholastic competition. “They were amazing,” said Jim McMillan. “After we had just got done beating them like that, they came to us and asked us to join them at midfield. They offered us food for the trip home and a prayer for a safe journey.”
“They thanked us for the opportunity to play,” added Jacob McMillan. “The coach talked with us about wanting to be on our schedule for next year. They are a great group of people.”
The Mountain Lions host the Republic Tigers on Saturday, kickoff 3.pm. at Mountain Lion Stadium, in the final game before the state tournament gets underway Veterans Day Weekend. The Tigers come in with a record of 7-2 overall and 4-1 in the NE 1B League. The only common opponent with Liberty Bell is Almira-Coulee-Hartline. The Tigers lost to ACH by a score of 68-14. Liberty Bell defeated the Warriors in September by a score of 64-34.