Bellevue claims KingCo 3A title with 24-7 defeat of Liberty
October 28, 2008
By Jim Feehan
Bellevue capitalized on Liberty’s turnovers in downing the Patriots 24-7 Oct. 24 at Bellevue Memorial Stadium.
With the loss, Liberty High School falls to 4-1 in KingCo 3A league play. The Patriots close out their regular season Halloween night at home against Mount Si, also 4-1 in league play.
Both teams advance to the playoffs, so the teams will be fighting for bragging rights and the No. 2 seed in the KingCo 3A conference behind Bellevue (5-0 in conference, 8-0 overall).
Bellevue senior linebacker Leonard Wolfork recovered two fumbles and had 92 return yards and one touchdown in leading the Wolverine defense.
Wolfork was instrumental in Bellevue’s first score. With 2:37 remaining in the first quarter, he picked up a fumble by Liberty sophomore quarterback Trey Wheeler at the Patriot 42-yard line and ran it back to the 6-yard line. Bellevue senior running back Eric Nelson scored on a 2-yard touchdown run to put the Wolverines up 7-0.
In the fourth quarter, with Bellevue up 17-7 and Liberty driving down the field, Wolfork picked up a fumble by Liberty sophomore running back Chandler Jenkins and ran untouched 62 yards for the game-clinching score.
The score was closer than the 24-7 would indicate as the Patriots had several scoring opportunities. On Liberty’s second possession of the game, the Patriots drove to the Bellevue 30-yard line, only to have Bellevue senior defensive back Jamal Atofau intercept a pass from Wheeler.
Liberty was held to four plays, including a botched fake punt in the second quarter. Bellevue capped a 13-play, 55-yard drive with a 27-yard field goal by senior kicker Houston Hubert with eight seconds remaining in the first half.
Hubert also helped the Wolverines by putting all of his kickoffs into the end zone, denying Liberty any yardage on kickoff returns. In the two games leading up to Bellevue, Liberty sophomore Marcel Bell took the opening kickoff and ran for a 75-yard touchdown in the Oct. 10 game against Hazen. The following week, senior wide receiver Richard Crespo returned Liberty’s opening kickoff to the Interlake 20, setting up the Patriots’ first touchdown in their Oct. 17 game against the Saints.
Wheeler was 0-7 with a pair of turnovers in the first half. He came back with 172 yards passing in the second half to rally the Patriots.
“At halftime, we said, ‘No. 7, we’re going with you,’” Liberty coach Steve Valach said regarding Wheeler. “We believed in him. I thought for a sophomore to come back in that second half, I’m very proud of him.”
Bellevue shut down Liberty’s rushing game as Wheeler took to the air. Crespo had seven receptions for 137 yards.
“We knew what Bellevue was going to do: They were going to come knock you in the face,” Crespo said. “Our offense just couldn’t find a rhythm.”
In the second half, Liberty drove down the field on its first drive in the third quarter. That drive stalled at the Bellevue 21, and Liberty decided to go for a 38-yard field goal attempt by senior kicker Keegan Bennett. Atofau blocked the kick to give the ball back to Bellevue.
A few plays later, Wolverine senior quarterback Tommy Castle hit junior wide receiver Brayden Van Ackerman on a 69-yard touchdown for a 17-0 lead.
With 10:40 remaining in the game, Liberty got on the scoreboard with a 27-yard touchdown reception by senior running back John Kirksey.
Bellevue used about six minutes off the clock following the Patriot score. A 45-yard field goal attempt by Hubert fell short.
With 3:13 remaining, and a critical fourth-and-5 from the Liberty 44, Wheeler hit Crespo for a 9-yard strike and a first down. Senior running back Joseph Yea followed with a 9-yard run. On the next play, Wolfork scooped up a Patriot fumble and ran it back 62-yards to put the Wolverines up 24-7.
But Wheeler wasn’t finished. He drove the Patriots down to the Bellevue 5, only to have Atofau intercept a pass with 37 second remaining.
“Bellevue stopped us on a couple of key plays,” Crespo said. “There are some things we could have done, but we didn’t accomplish it.”
Now, Valach and his players prepare for the regular season finale against Mount Si.
“We respect their coaches and have a good rapport with them,” Valach said. “It’s a war with those guys, always.”
Reach Reporter Jim Feehan at 392-6434, ext. 239, or firstname.lastname@example.org.