Wolverines hand Patriots tough ending to a triumphant season

December 31, 2009

By Tim Pfarr

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Chandler Jenkins, Liberty High School junior running back, breaks from the Bellevue defense into the open in the second quarter for 72 yards and the first of the two touchdowns he accounted for in the Patriots’ 17-23 loss. By Greg Farrar

Chandler Jenkins, Liberty High School junior running back, breaks from the Bellevue defense into the open in the second quarter for 72 yards and the first of the two touchdowns he accounted for in the Patriots’ 17-23 loss. By Greg Farrar

The Liberty Patriots came within six points of winning its first state championship in 21 years Dec. 4. However, the Patriots were unable to close the gap, falling to the Bellevue Wolverines, 23-17.

“Right now, it’s tough to swallow that we lost,” Liberty quarterback Trey Wheeler said after the game.

The Wolverines came out with guns blazing, taking the ball first, marching down the field, converting on two fourth downs and scoring a touchdown. The 80-yard drive took eight minutes and 55 seconds.

Liberty blocked Bellevue’s extra point, holding Bellevue’s lead to 6-0, but Liberty’s offense immediately stalled on its first drive with three-straight incomplete passes.

On Bellevue’s next drive, it marched down the field once again. This time Liberty was able to stop Bellevue at the 9-yard line, forcing Bellevue to kick a field goal and only increase its lead to 9-0.

On Liberty’s next drive, running back Chandler Jenkins broke a 72-yard touchdown run on the second play. The extra point brought Bellevue’s lead to 9-7.

Bellevue had no trouble marching 78 yards on its next drive for another touchdown, increasing its lead to 16-7 going into halftime.

Jake Bainton, Liberty High School junior defensive back, causes a fumble by Bellevue junior running back Joey Mangialardi in the second quarter. Bellevue retained possession on the play. By Greg Farrar

Jake Bainton, Liberty High School junior defensive back, causes a fumble by Bellevue junior running back Joey Mangialardi in the second quarter. Bellevue retained possession on the play. By Greg Farrar

At halftime, Liberty’s time of possession was only 1 minute and 51 seconds.

The third quarter was dominated by defense on both sides of the ball, and neither team scored. However, Liberty opened the fourth quarter with a 14-yard Jenkins touchdown run, closing Bellevue’s lead 16-14.

Both teams’ defenses dominated until the clock reached six minutes, at which time Bellevue began another successful drive, this time from its own 46-yard line.

The Wolverines converted on yet another fourth down on their way down the field, scoring a touchdown with 2:08 remaining and increasing its lead to 23-14.

Now needing two scores, Liberty hurried down field, beginning from its own 20-yard line and driving down to Bellevue’s 20-yard line before held to fourth down and five.

Kicker Dean Byron converted the 37-yard field goal, closing Bellevue’s lead 23-17 with 28 seconds remaining.

Now with no timeouts left, Liberty attempted an onside kick, but Bellevue recovered the football, securing the Wolverine win.

As Bellevue took a knee and the clock struck zero, there was not a dry eye on the Liberty team. However, Liberty head coach Steve Valach expressed to the members of his team how proud he was of them. He said his team — once again — never gave up.

“All season long it’s been never stop believing. As long as there’s time on the clock we’ve got a shot,” he said.

Despite the pain of the loss, Liberty’s players could not deny the great success their team had in 2009.

Lineman Alex Kaiser said the journey was the most fun experience of his life.

“All season, the things we did as a team, as sour as this loss may seem, I think they completely outweigh what happened tonight,” Kaiser said.

Jenkins said the success of the season was difficult to appreciate in the wake of the loss, but that the team did have a successful year.

“I’ll look back on it probably next week. I’ll be like, ‘yeah, we had a good season,’” Jenkins said.

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