Liberty's season ends in 70-24 loss to Jesuit
It was always going to be an uphill battle.
Fresh from an emotional comeback win in last week's first round, a game in which Liberty erased a 21-point fourth quarter deficit and won on a last second field goal, the Falcons ran into a buzzsaw in this week's second round by the name of the Jesuit Crusaders.
The No. 2-ranked Crusaders wasted little time asserting their dominance, and despite a never-say-die Falcons attitude, this game was all-Jesuit, all-the-time, as the home Crusaders won handily 70-24 on a cool, foggy Friday night, Nov. 15, at Jesuit High School.
Led by the hard and shifty running of senior running back Kade Wisher, Jesuit ran all over the Liberty defense, amassing 428 yards rushing on 37 attempts.
Wisher, who finished with nearly 300 yards rushing on 20 carries while scoring five touchdowns, was obviously one of the keys to the victory, but the 5-foot-9 senior was quick to point to the rest of the team's collective effort as the real reason for the win.
"We came out strong and set the tone early," Wisher said. "The defense played great, the offensive line played great, and the secondary did their job. They had one pretty lethal receiver and they did a pretty good job of shutting him down, so we did a nice job tonight."
The game was never really close. Jesuit scored on the game's fifth play after a muffed Liberty punt attempt set the Crusaders up on the Falcons' 12 yard line, then after a second Jesuit score and Liberty's first touchdown, the home Crusaders ran-off 28 straight points to put the game out of reach in the first four minutes of the second half. Yet despite the lopsided score and the challenge on the field of play, the Falcons never gave up and head coach Eric Mahlum said he's come to expect nothing less from a group of kids he's grown to respect in their time in the Liberty football program.
"These guys just have big heart and character," the coach said. "I'm extremely proud of them. Making it to the second round of the playoffs, showing the character they did coming back last week, you know they never quit. Unfortunately tonight we just ran into a team that was just better than us."
And that would be hard to argue against. Jesuit was simply the bigger, faster, and more physical team. That wasn't a surprise to Coach Mahlum, nor was it surprising to Wisher and the Crusaders who said afterwards that it's not about who they play, but rather simply about getting better with what's ahead in mind.
"We're just trying to improve every week," Wisher said. "We're not worried about other teams, we're just worried about ourselves. Games like this, we're trying to fine tune some things and perfect our craft."
They weren't perfect. In fact they made some mistakes, including allowing a couple big plays to Liberty's Jaxson Lake who scored twice from 50 yards. Once on a first half run, and the second on a quick pass early in the third quarter.
Lake's first score came on a sweep where the senior receiver ran around the right side and thanks to a nifty outside block, took-off and went untouched for a score that cut the Jesuit lead to 14-6 as the first quarter came to an end. The Crusaders made it 21-6 on the opening drive of the second when Wisher capped a 10 play, 72 yard drive with a 15 yard touchdown run. Then after a 14 yard Ted Atkinson touchdown run made it 28-6, Wisher scored again, this time from 75 yards out to send Jesuit to the halftime locker room leading 35-6.
It just got worse from there, and it didn't take long to do it.
The Crusaders' Joey Gatto took the second half's opening kickoff 97 yards to pay dirt, making it 42-6. Lake answered with the second of his scores, this time on a short pass in which he beat the Jesuit defender to the boundary and streaked up the sideline en route to a 50 yard score, cutting the deficit to 30.
Wisher however wasn't done, scoring four plays later, capping a 71 yard drive, this time with a 12 yard run to make it 49-12. Further evidence of a run game that was just too much for the smaller Falcons to handle.
"You have to be careful because if you over commit they're going to hurt you somewhere else," Mahlum said. "So it's kind of like you pick your poison. You try to lineup and play with them and hope you make some plays.
"There were some times when we made some adjustments and we stuffed 'em, but all of sudden they stay on their blocks, find a crack, and that team goes threw them."
Liberty scored twice more, one on a 5 yard Hiro Diamond run, and the other on the final play of the game when Diamond found receiver Marquis Brown open on a short fade route.
Now, for Jesuit it's on to the quarterfinals where they'll play Tualatin who defeated North Medford Friday 50-35. How will they approach that game? Much like they do everyone else — focusing on them.
"We talked mainly about staying healthy," Wisher said after their postgame huddle. "We've had some guys out because of sickness, but coach talked about being smart, safe, and just continuing to get better."
And Liberty? Their season is done. But Mahlum said this team will forever be remembered for who they are off the field, as well as what they did on it.
"Our team played hard," Mahlum said. "The kids prepared all week and never quit. I've been coaching long enough to know when you have a sideline full of guys that are done, and the guys on this sideline are never done. They do whatever it takes."
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