Liberty gets big road league opener

September 24, 2008

By Derek Johnson

Patriots knock off Mercer Island 35-14



Marcell Bell, Liberty sophomore running back, reaches out the football to make sure it’s across the goal line for the Patriots’ second touchdown of the game against Mercer Island. Photo by Greg Farrar.

Marcell Bell, Liberty sophomore running back, reaches out the football to make sure it’s across the goal line for the Patriots’ second touchdown of the game against Mercer Island. Photo by Greg Farrar.

Sometimes, things aren’t as they first appear. Such was the case in Liberty’s football game at Mercer Island Sept. 19. 

Following a first quarter in which the Islanders physically dominated the Patriots, one big play completely altered the game’s dynamics. The end result was Liberty’s 35-14 win over Mercer Island, in a game that opened KingCo 3A league play for both teams.  

Mercer Island took the game’s opening kickoff, and initially looked the superior team. Implementing a simple game plan, the Islanders ran right at the Liberty defense, taking 10:23 off the clock as they drove inside the Patriots’ 1-yard line. But in electing to go for it on fourth down, quarterback Sam Bliss was tackled just inches shy of the goal line.

Liberty took over and hit pay dirt one minute into the second quarter. Executing an end around, wide receiver Richard Crespo broke two tackles and galloped free into the Islander secondary for a 56-yard touchdown. This, along with Keegan Bennett’s point after touchdown kick, put the Patriots up 7-0.

On the ensuing kickoff, Mercer Island’s Kurtis Rosengreen mishandled the ball, which resulted in him being buried at his own 4-yard line. The Islanders then made a curious play call that likely sealed their fate. 

Dropping back into his own end zone, Bliss looked right and threw the ball downfield. Stepping in front of the receiver to pick it off was Liberty’s Malcolm Dike. The senior linebacker churned his legs and dragged tacklers to the 1-yard line. 

“Our scout team prepares us so well,” said Dike, when asked about his interception. “We were recognizing all the plays that Mercer Island was running.”

Moments later, talented sophomore running back Marcel Bell plunged over the goal line, expanding Liberty’s lead to 14-0. 

Perhaps out of desperation on the next possession, Bliss dropped back and threw a long bomb down the left hash mark. Liberty’s Turner Chatterton, however, tracked it the whole way and made the interception. Moments after that, Patriot running back Greg Ericksen took a handoff and slashed off-tackle and into the open field. He found the end zone 45 yards later, and Liberty’s rout was officially on.

With twenty-eight seconds left in the half, Liberty quarterback Trey Wheeler threw a beautiful spiral to wide receiver John Kirksey for a 21-yard scoring strike. With that, the lead ballooned to 28-0.

As the third quarter opened up, the wind was already out of the home crowd’s sails. But Liberty wasn’t taking any chances. The Patriots maintained an aggressive game plan. 

After driving inside the Islander 10-yard line, Wheeler dropped into the pocket and connected with Crespo on a perfect down-and-out pattern for another touchdown. This provided the Patriots with an insurmountable 35-0 advantage. 

“He just moved here from Tennessee,” Crespo said about Wheeler. “We’ve been working together, and getting better and better.”

In the fourth quarter, Mercer Island’s Ben Emanuels picked off a pass and rambled 45 yards for a touchdown to avert a shutout. With 5:00 to go, Liberty coach Steve Valach called time out and gathered his players around him on the sideline.

“Give me a show of hands,” he shouted. “Who hasn’t been in the game yet?”  

A half-dozen hands shot skyward, and Valach promptly sent those players onto the field. Against those reserves, Mercer Island was able to gain large chunks of yardage. Bliss concluded the night’s scoring by connecting with Jack Harrison on a 6-yard toss. The touchdown was meaningless, however, as it merely closed the final margin to 35-14.

With the win, Liberty improved to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in league play. Mercer Island slipped to 1-2 and 0-1. 

When asked about his 45-yard breakaway run in the second quarter, Patriot running back Greg Ericksen shrugged his shoulders and gave credit to his offensive line. 

“They did a great job of blocking up front,” he said.

Valach was visibly happy about his team’s victory on the road. 

“In high school football, if you’re able to take away the big play, you will usually be in good shape,” he said. “We were able to take away the big play tonight. Momentum is huge. Stopping them at the goal line in the first quarter caused a momentum shift that swung to our side and gave our team a lift. Tonight’s win was a solid effort.”

Reach interim Sports Reporter Derek Johnson at 392-6434, ext. 236, or

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