Liberty football can't finish off Beaverton in fourth quarter
Of all the cranium-cracking thumpers on the Beaverton defense, there might not be a more fitting embodiment of head coach Bob Boyer's "Pursue And Punish" proverb than Parker McKenna.
Off the field, he's the nicest kid you'll come across, polite, cordial, forthcoming. On the field, though, the middle linebacker is old school mean with a quick fuse and a kamikaze playing style.
As he goes, so does the Beaver defense. He's the heartbeat, especially with Sandrey Mitberg sidelined for the time being.
And in the second half of a back and forth bar fight with Liberty, with his team protecting a slim 26-20 fourth quarter lead, McKenna made arguably the play of the game, forcing a Falcon fumble with a thundering hit on Liberty quarterback Hiro Diamond that popped the football 10 feet in the air and landed in the hands of Hector Cazares.
The nuclear McKenna blast set off a Beaver barrage as Beaverton (2-0 overall) forced three more fourth quarter turnovers and cashed in three of them with touchdowns to pull away from Liberty (1-1 overall) 47-20 on Sep. 13 at Beaverton High School.
"(McKenna) hit the hell out of (Diamond)," Beaverton cornerback/wide receiver Cody Davidson said. "Our sideline was hyped after that. We just kept going. We were rolling."
On the play, Diamond faked an option handoff which fooled everyone except McKenna. The All-Metro linebacker who came screaming in at full speed, lowered his center of gravity, squared up the Falcon field general and put his black and orange helmet perfectly on the football. The pigskin popped free and flew what felt like 10 feet in the air into the awaiting soft mitts of Cazares who cradled the interception and rolled to the turf while securing possession to complete the takeaway.
"I use my helmet a lot when I tackle, it's kind of bad form but it gets the big hits," McKenna said with a smile. "Only up six, I knew we needed a big play. I had no idea the ball went up in the air, but I'll take it."
To boot, one play after McKenna sent the pigskin skyward toward the full moon above, the senior slot wide receiver reeled in a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Carson Budke. Junior Trent Walker added the two-point try to extend Beaverton's lead to 34-20 with just over eight minutes to go in the fourth. For McKenna, who had unofficially had 11 tackles and four for a loss, it was a two-way sequence that out to start his Hudl highlight reel.
"It's exciting to kind of be the one that takes over a game," McKenna said. "I knew I didn't play as well as I could've in the first half, so I had to pick it up. We had a ton of energy as a team in the second half and made some good plays."
What was once a competitive, oscillating affair escalated into a near blowout in mere minutes as the Beavers used explosive plays and their opportunistic, hard-hitting defense to beat Liberty for the first time in three years.
"Beaverton played a great game," Liberty head coach Eric Mahlum. "We were sloppy, but it's the product of them coming out prepared and playing good ball. We never really got on track or played really well, but again Beaverton had a good gameplan. Every time we were getting close to pulling back in it and making it a game, they answered."
Beaverton's defense forced six turnovers, three of which came at the hands of Davidson, who had two interceptions and a critical fumble recovery in the fourth quarter. They did so without Mitberg, who upon his return will make up a diabolical linebacking tandem with McKenna at the second level.
"You can't play that sloppy and win games," Mahlum said. "But, I'd rather do that in the second week than the eighth week of the season. We could be in a dogfight each week. We have a tough non-league schedule. There are no easy gimmes. If you make mistakes and turn the ball over, somebody else will beat you. We have to play good ball."
After McKenna's touchdown catch, Liberty marched inside the Beaver red zone to the 11-yard line. Falcon senior Cole Smith, who was a force in all three phases of the game all night long, took a handoff along the left side and cut in toward the end zone, seemingly headed for pay dirt. But just as Smith reached the goaline, Walker knifed in and punched the ball free, which Davidson fell on in the end zone to give possession back to Beaverton. Three plays later, Beaver running back Logan McRae rambled 58 yards to the paint to move Beaverton's advantage to 41-20 with 2:16 left in the fourth. If that wasn't enough, Beaverton linebacker Mason Bloodsaw scooped up another Falcon fumble on the next play from scrimmage and took it 45 yards to the end zone to make it 47-20. Then Beaverton junior linebacker Ryan Mendiola fell on a Liberty fumble in the final seconds, ending a nightmarish final eight minutes or so for the Falcons.
"We flew around on defense," Davidson said. "Coming into halftime we got yelled at a little bit, but that juiced us up for the second half and that showed on the scoreboard."
The problematic ending, unfortunately, overshadowed signs of promise for Liberty. Senior cornerback Marquis Brown made a spectacular interception in the first quarter, tipping the ball high in the air on a pass deep downfield and then somehow coming down with it himself. Smith was a beast, scoring on a 25-yard pass from Diamond, a 99-yard kickoff return down the right sideline and laid a monster smack on Davidson over the middle from his cornerback spot. Senior running back Jaison Ochoa ran hard and downhill, setting up a one-yard Diamond touchdown run that gave Liberty a 13-7 lead late in the second quarter.
"We were playing together," Liberty senior linebacker Kyle Perkins said. "We need to continue to do that. We were relying on each other and making plays as a team. We were going back and forth, which was fun even though we ended up on the wrong end of it. But we made a lot of mistakes, so we have to go back, watch the film and clean those up."
Guys like Jaxson Lake and Anthony Giannetti stepped up and made timely plays while Diamond looked nothing like a sophomore quarterback, displaying poise and toughness in the run game. When Smith hauled in that 25-yard score from Diamond, Liberty trailed just 26-20 with 34 seconds left in the third quarter. The game felt like it was going to come down to the wire until Beaverton blew up.
"I love my team, I love my guys," Mahlum said. "Even though I'm frustrated with how things went, I can't wait to get back to work on Monday. That's the biggest positive for me."
"We're going to come right back from this," Perkins said. "We have some great players and we can be a great team. We want to win another league championship and get in the playoffs, so that's our goal."
Simply put, Beaverton did whatever it so pleased offensively. Despite an interception, a missed field goal and two turnovers on downs, the Beavers racked up 518 total yards of offense, 238 of which came on the ground. McRae was the star, gashing the Falcons for 197 yards and two scores on 19 carries. On Beaverton's first play of the second half, the Beaver offensive line opened a gaping hole along the left side and McRae zipped through it with a flurry of quick, powerful strides that sent him past the second level of the Liberty defense down to the Falcon 11. Two plays later the running back punctuated his work with a one-yard lunge across the goaline to give Beaverton a 20-13 lead with 8:44 to go in the third. McRae was ruthless, decisive and energetic toting the rock, bouncing up after every hit with verve and excitement.
Cazares, Leon Phandouangsy, Joziah Perdido and Miguel Solares were Beaverton's lifeblood upfront, providing Budke plenty of time in the pocket when he dropped back to pass and ethering the line of scrimmage for McRae and McKenna to move.
"Coming into the huddle, you could see they were juiced," Davidson said. "They stepped it up this week in practice and it showed. We ran the hell out of the ball today and when we do that, our receivers are going to get open on pass plays. We got into a good rhythm."
Indeed, Budke, Walker, Davidson, McKenna and Cristian Gonzalez all were on the same page in the passing game. Walker was a walking mismatch, catching both of his touchdowns inside the 10-yard line en route to eight catches for 114 yards. Davidson (four catches for 57 yards) had a big 37-yard catch late in the second quarter that set up a 13-yard touchdown screen pass to McRae that tied the game up 13-13 going into the half. Gonzalez's 40-yard haul in the first quarter led to Walker's first score. Budke (21-for-33, 280 yards, four scores) was the ringmaster, taking accurate, timely shots downfield, putting enough air under the ball for his playmakers to get a bead on it, or slinging short ropes that allowed Walker and company to run after the catch. With McRae emerging, the offensive line mauling and the passing game clicking early in the season, Beaverton's offense is going to be a problem in the Metro League and state at-large.
"Our offense is one of the best in the state," McKenna said. "We just have so many dudes that can make plays."
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